High school junior Virginia Stuart, who goes by Vi, is a star on the Briarcrest Christian School’s cross country and track teams, tackling long distances in the fall and short, fast races in the spring.

Far into a stellar season and just one track meet before the regional championships, Vi went down with a hamstring injury during the 3200-meter run this year. This left her two weeks to rehabilitate her leg and continue training for her next opportunity to crush that race. Things didn’t pull together for her, though. During the 3200 at the championship, she wasn’t able to finish because of what was later identified as a sodium deficiency. Physical limitations were stacking up against Vi. Her last chance to prove herself was in the 1600-meter run in two days.

Three years earlier, Vi was a true novice at running. She walked on to the cross country and track teams as a freshman with no expectations, simply hoping to do her best. She could have eventually wandered back to basketball or soccer, but a sophomore runner took Vi under her wing. Megan Underwood, who now runs for the University of Arkansas, taught her about proper technique, how to push through fatigue, and how to get good times.“ She’s one of the main reasons I am a serious runner today,” Vi credits Megan. “Running with her during freshman and sophomore year really developed me into the runner I am now.”

Though often confused as being the same, cross country and track are different types of running; training for both during the school year requires dedication. Vi loves the fast competitiveness of track’s shorter distances and the mental challenge of longer races. “It’s hard to pick a favorite,” she says.

Things revved into gear for Vi when she was a sophomore. Her times dropped dramatically after only running a couple of years. Her coach picked up on her potential and took her training up a notch. If her junior year goes well, Vi hopes to compete in both sports in college. “I just love running. You can do it anytime! I love that as well as the challenge and push—all of it.”

Vi has had to test her limits to get this far. “My coach always tells me that it’s not my lack of physical strength holding me back; it’s what’s going on in my head.” With her mentor now in college and no longer at her side during races, Vi has had to learn to trust herself. “I feel like I am working three times harder. I want to do better than I did last year.” It’s been challenging without Megan as a pacer. “I’ve enjoyed the challenge, though,” Vi says. “It’s now in my hands to keep going.”

On Thursday afternoon of the regional championship, Vi finally lined up for the 1600-meter run. She knew there was the risk of exacerbating her injury from the prior track meet. This was the moment she had to decide to be a competitor: put it all on the line or fade to the back of the pack. It took less than six minutes to learn what she was made of. Vi crossed the finish line first with a winning time of 5.35 and secured a place at the state championship.

By Chloe Webster. 

Photo by Tindall Stephens.