By Jim McGrath (@jfmcgrath)
Sail on, sail on, Sailor!
The most impressive performance of the Class 4, 5, and 6 championships may have been that from Battlefield's Sailor Eastman, who darted around the 5,000-meter loop of Great Meadow in 17:29, a time that posted as the seventh-best female performance of all-time and gave the Bobcat sophomore a 21-second win over McLean's Thais Rolly, who outsprinted her to the finish line to win in the last state meet, at the Oatlands in April.
For Eastman, her state finish capped one of the most remarkable comebacks on record. Just two weeks before, she was finishing a seven-week recovery from a potential stress fracture in her lower leg, one that threatened to end the season after her last race on September 11, when Eastman placed in second place with Juliette Whittaker of Mount De Sales Academy at the Octoberfest Invitational, also at the Oatlands.
How does one overcome a stress fracture so quickly?
"Well, I never really figured out what it was, but probably not a stress fracture," said Eastman, minutes after receiving her winner's picture and medal. "We just treated it like one."
With running temporarily on hold, part of the recovery process included a focus on her other sport, swimming. Eastman swims for Battlefield High, as well with the 15-16 age-group with the Occoquan Swimming Club.
To accomplish the transition successfully, Eastman changed her training methods, and in some cases, events. Known primarily as a 100 and 200-meter specialist in several events, she began training for longer events, and even competed in a 1500-meter freestyle race at the end of October. "We just put swimming where running would be," said Eastman. "If it was a distance day for running, I did a long swim." Her training also aligned with interval and speedwork days.
In the meantime, her Battlefield teammates held down the fort. Eastman wasn't ready for the Cedar Run District meet on October 20, but her Bobcat mates, led by fellow sophomore Colleen Kelly's third-place finish (19:45) nipped Freedom by a single point to capture the district championship.
Two weeks later, at the Region 6B meet, Eastman declared herself ready to run. The hope was that she could run close to her best time of 17:58 and give the Bobcats a shot at winning.
In a race that surprised everyone, Eastman not only won the individual title, but knocked 52 seconds off her PR in leading Battlefield to a 26-point win over runner-up Colonial Forge. More importantly, she accomplished this at the Great Meadow (non-state) course, which would serve as a pre-cursor to Saturday's events.
"I was shocked," admitted Eastman. "I had forgotten what it felt like to run fast. Gravity wasn't my best friend."
On Saturday, Sailor left no doubt about the outcome, taking the lead early, and not giving Rolly a chance to claim the lead after moving through the pack before the final mile. Forest Park's Elizabeth Gregory, second in the Region 6B meet, was third in 18:11.
The Bobcats team placed fourth with 117 points, a mark they aim to improve next year, as only two of their top-seven graduate next June.
Eastman has at least one meet left this fall, when she takes to the McAlpine Park course in Cary, NC at the South Region Foot Locker race. Her goal is to break 17 minutes. Whether she will be training in the pool or on the road remains in question.