Danielle Leavitt finally knows what it's like to call herself a state champion.
On Feb. 20, the 17-year-old Lacey Township High School senior won the state Group III 800-meters championship, capping off an indoor track season that she was able to finish the way she wanted. It also earned her the honor of being named The Press Indoor Track Athlete of the Year.
Leavitt will run at Monmouth University next year.
Throughout her career, Leavitt has battled the poor timing of illnesses and injuries that prevented her from finishing cross country seasons and earning chances for championships.
"I just executed the race as planned and I won," Leavitt said on the phone Monday, her emotions growing as she relived the feeling. "It was a great and just an indescribable feeling, especially because I wasn't able to show what I could do in cross country.
"To be able to come back and have these victories after all this time, the feeling was just so incredible."
The obstacles began to surface for Leavitt early in her high school career.
During her sophomore season, Leavitt had compartment syndrome, which occurs when there is an insufficient supply of blood to the muscles and nerves due to increased pressure in the body's compartments. In Leavitt's case, it was in her legs.
During her junior season, Leavitt hit a bunch of illnesses during the cross country season.
She didn't want to stop running during the season, but she grew increasingly weaker as she tried to push through.
This past cross country season, Leavitt had hip problems and felt mentally burnt out by the end of the season and didn't finish.
But as she had in previous seasons, Leavitt pushed through. She completely changed her workout routine to prevent injury in the indoor track season.
"My coaches had me do more hip-strengthening exercises and different types of drills," Leavitt said. "I started to lift more in the gym and starting looking up different stretches on my own to make sure I keep injury free."
Leavitt also started to take vitamins and adjusted her diet.
Those little adjustments made all the difference, according to Lacey's distance coach Steven Geiger.
"She took the little things and really took them to heart," Geiger said. "Her stretching, her ice bath at the end of the year, all the little things, being prepared for every single practice. She focused on that, and in the end is where she saw it pay off."
Leavitt ran two races at the state finals: the 800 meters and the 1,600. She ran the 1,600 first, coming in second place in 4 minutes, 56.06 seconds, which was the first time she finished the race in less than five minutes.
Going into the 800, Leavitt said she didn't even expect to win. She had a game plan set along with goals in place to ensure she ran the best race she could.
Not putting the added pressure of high expectations enabled her to come away with the state championship.
"Having no pressure there and putting all my focus onto what I have to run instead of saying, 'I have to win this race,' definitely took a lot of pressure off," said Leavitt, who finished in 2:15.06.
"I was definitely a lot more calm and I think it definitely made a big difference."
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