The Gahanna Lincoln High School girls track and field team's 800-meter relay has not had far to look for inspiration this spring.
A portrait of 2012 graduate Dominae Gaston, who helped the relay reach the podium in the Division I state meet last June, hangs next to the door inside the school's locker room with the words "Compete like a CHAMPION today!!!" underneath.
Gaston was shot and killed Oct. 27 on Columbus' east side.
"I always think it's nice to see her face around," sophomore Sami Shaw said. "We have to remember her. You never know what's going to happen. You have to do your best because you never know when it's going to be your last race. You always have to remember what you have."
Senior Daniella Johnson, junior Sara Richards and Shaw are back from the 800 relay that placed fifth at state last year in 1 minute, 42.46 seconds. The fourth member of the relay most of this season has been sophomore Tara Tedrick, who is Richards' stepsister.
The relay turned in one of the area's best times while winning a title April 27 in the Gazette/Friends of Coal Relays in Charleston, W.Va.
"As they go out (of the locker room), I just tell them to tap that picture," coach Roger Whittaker said. "I'm not saying this is our driving force, but this is one of our motivations. I tell the girls to tap (the picture) if they don't have anything to motivate them."
In the 2010 state meet, Gaston ran on the 800 relay that was 14th (1:44.56) while one of her five siblings, 2010 graduate Dajanae Gaston, was 14th in the 300 hurdles (45.96).
Last season, Dominae Gaston, Johnson, Richards and Shaw also earned a fifth-place finish at state in the 400 relay (48.51).
Dominae, according to Whittaker, competed in track in middle school and all four of her high school years. She was a team captain last spring and "was one of the most dedicated girls," he said.
This season, the team made T-shirts that feature the words "Have the Heart to Hurt" on the back and "Dom" in black letters on the side in com-memoration of their former teammate.
"She always gave us speeches and just really pumped us up before she ran, especially last year since it was her last year (in high school)," Richards said. "I think it's just really emotional for all of us. We miss her a lot."
Her mother, Joyce McGinnis, attended the Lions' opening home meet April 9 against Groveport and Reynoldsburg. She said she is honored that the Gahanna track program is remembering her daughter in multiple ways this spring.
"I did see the girls run a couple weeks ago and my heart just broke because track meant everything to us," said McGinnis, who competed in track in the 1980s for Marion-Franklin. "It was hard but it also felt good. All of them ran across the track to see me and I was tearing up.
"I ran track and was really good, but I never made it to state. For (Dominae) to (make it to state) and place fifth last year in two events, I was so proud of her. I got to see her graduate, which was great. A lot of people have said such nice things about her. I was just on her 'Rest in Peace' page on Facebook and it just makes me feel really good."
Led by their 800 relay (first, 1:43.69), the Lions scored 167 points to easily top a 15-team field April 27 in Charleston. Gahanna also has won team championships this season in the Icebreaker Invitational (March 30 at Watkins Memorial), the Wildcat Premier (April 6 at Hilliard Davidson) and in the Stingel Invitational (April 13 at Pickerington North).
Johnson and Richards again are running on the 400 relay, which was first (48.12) on April 27 and rounded out by senior Reyna Montgomery and freshman MiAngel Daniels.
According to Johnson, the Lions haven't forgotten what Dominae meant to the program.
"Everyone is putting out a lot of hard work and running really good times," Johnson said. "I think it's kind of made us run for her and gives us more energy and more motivation to run the best we can. (Her picture) reminds us of her and just her smile. She was always so energetic and happy. Since she'd gone to state before (in 2010), she helped us come together and run a great race and kind of kept us calm last year.
"We all got together at (senior Francesca Bowsher's house) when (Dominae died) and all went to the funeral together. There were people who ran this year and seniors from last year who came. I think we were all pretty close."
Whittaker said he is proud of the family atmosphere that has developed around his team.
Shaw remembers how Dominae encouraged the other members of the sprint relays during the state meet last year.
"It's definitely different not having her around," Shaw said. "She was such a big personality. At the state meet last year I remember she was standing on the podium and (Johnson, Richards and I) were on the ground and she just said, 'This is my last meet.' We started to cry. She was just like, 'Don't be sad.' Our team is just a big family."