The graph above shows the performance chart for one of my athletes over the course of her career (Courtesy of mo.milesplit.us) run 5k in XC. It is easy to see this athlete struggled in the middle of her career. However, that graph shows doesn’t do justice to the story of Kayla Friesen. Kayla showed a lot of promise as a young runner on our cross country team as a freshman. She was putting in a number of great workouts and looked like she might be on the fast track to a varsity spot. But, like most young runners she hit the wall and was unable to actually finish her freshman year. Our team’s season ended on a frustrating note just missing qualifying as a team to the state cross country meet As a team we were short one more quality number. She went on to participate in swimming and then broke my heart by playing soccer her freshman year. The good news she was able to state fairly healthy for the rest of the school year. She came back out and showed glimpses of her freshman talent in her sophomore XC season. She made varsity and began to run a number of decent times but again would begin to struggle and severely hurt her ankle. We did all we could to get her legs back underneath her but she was unable to match her early season times and hobbled through our district championships. She did swim again and was healthy. However, after a short period of time her and three other of her swimming teammates came up with a strange injury in same spot on the same hip in Kayla’s first track season. At this point I started to conclude a long winter of swimming is good for the engine of the runner but is terrible for the runners frame. I often equate this to putting a Ferrari engine in the body of a Pento. The body just can’t handle the stress the cardio system is prepared to do on the track. At this point her parents and I were fed up with all these injuries. She went to seek professional help from Washington University. Her improvement was slow and she did little running with the team in the summer before her junior year. Her junior cross country season was an absolute disaster as she had ferritin issues and possibly anemic. This season is the towering middle section on the graph above. Finally, her parents and I discussed seeing if she was having blood issues. Sure enough she was low and they addressed it with supplementation. I addressed her issues with a drastically reduced work load and days on her feet. Quickly she began to respond and her times began to inch their way back down. At the end of her season she was able to run under 23mins for the first time in over a year in a fun run at her sectional meet. Little did I know this race would mark the birth of one of the greatest runners we ever had at Parkway Central.
Kayla made a number of changes to improve her performances: she began to get regular blood tests, she began to take supplements, she stopped swimming, dedicated herself to our winter conditioning, and she hit the weight room seriously for the first time. The synergy from all of these changes made Kayla seem like she was on rocket fuel in practice. Coach Greathouse and I believed Kayla was going to make some serious improvements but none of us were prepared for what would happen next. Before Kayla’s first couple of meets we set modest goals for Kayla’s first real track season. In a comedic turn of events Kayla destroyed those goals in her first race and many coaches looked at me awkwardly as if I was trying to sandbag with our athletes. I tried to say I am sorry for running such a talented kid in JV but heck what was I to do. Each time she ran the 3200 she got faster. We hope to keep this streak alive this spring. She eventually ended up running one the fastest 3200s in school history in her peak phase at districts. This would also mark her first complete season without an injury and I couldn’t be happier for her progression.
The improvement didn’t stop with last track season Kayla then went on to run summer track with our club the St. Louis Lightning. Coach Levine continued to work on improving her foot speed while coach Bergeron and I increased her mileage all summer long. Her times began to stabilize and performances we used to get super excited about became routine. Her summer finished with a wonderful All American performance at the national championships. At this point we had to reset our goals again for cross country. As expected Kayla began to set course records and personal best week to week. She also took on a leadership role as captain and did a great job leading our team to numerous wins and top four finishes as a team. As the season progressed I began to whisper the words “All state”. As all good stories go her final push to the state championship was not without bumps. We barely missed making it to sectionals as a team and then at sectionals she did not run better for the first time in a solid year. All week I was racking my brain on what should be her strategy to attack the state course. I finally decided to have her work from 30-20 through the first mile and then work up from that point on. She was nearly perfect throughout the race and ran her best time of the season (considering difficulty of course). Little did I know that Kayla had a flare for the dramatic at the very end of the race she was in 22nd spot and thought she was at the finish at the 3mile mark!!! She then passed a number of people and number of people passed her. It was chaos then right at the finish line she was passed by a spark plug freshman from Lafayette. At that point as I was screaming all the way up the hill excited but I realized I had no clue if she was 24, 25, or the dreaded 26th place (the first non-all state spot). I was not the only one who lost count. Seriously, no one knew. Ten very tense minutes later it was official she was 25th and All State. I hugged everyone and walked away to do a little happy crying (I am a bit of a crier). Never had a kid I have ever coached gone through so much, stuck with the training, and refused to give up. She only worked harder, smarter, and with more frequency. The take home point of this story is NEVER give up as a coach or an athlete. Believe me you have not tried everything and if you keep eliminating the problems you will find your personal greatness.