Athlete of the Week: Kirsten McMichael, Ringgold
Name: Kirsten McMichael
Sport: Cross Country
McMichael’s week: McMichael’s week was a hectic and historic one. Ringgold’s girls cross country team ran three meets and the team’s top runner responded with the best performance of her career.
One year after coming two seconds shy of the school’s record – which was held by her mother and Ringgold’s cross country coach, Jennifer Lejeune-McMichael – the junior’s time of 19:31 led the Rams to a first-place finish at the Big South Conference Championship at Mingo Park Thursday. The team’s three top-5 finishes clinched a one-point victory over second-place Thomas Jefferson.
Two days later, she achieved a personal-best time of 19:25 at Carlisle.
The comeback: After starting last season off in strong form, McMichael experienced sharp pain in her leg as she competed at state qualifiers. Originally diagnosed as tendonitis, McMichael found the real problem after a disappointing showing at state qualifiers: a stress fracture.
“(The injury) was very devastating,” Lejeune-McMichael said. “She just didn’t look right and was experiencing more pain. Luckily, it was a non-weight bearing bone, but we decided to take a cautious approach.”
McMichael did not run for three months. She spent the winter swimming, riding a bike to build strength and overcoming the incessant frustration that came with rehabilitation.
Her comeback officially began in the spring when McMichael qualified for the indoor track and field championships, while the summer months continued to prepare the junior for her ultimate goal: the school record.
“I guess I was just really excited,” Kirsten said. “I spent the past year trying to break the record and to break it so early in the season is a huge surprise to me.”
Lejeune-McMichael knew her daughter was bound for a historic showing Thursday at the two-mile mark. Despite the meet being the Rams’ first at their home course in months, McMichael started fast and never let up.
“I yelled at her, ‘Go for it; you’re going to break the record today,” Lejeune McMichael said. “I was proud as a coach, and as a mom. I can’t be happier, especially with a setback like that. It was heartbreaking, but now she is healthy, happy and confident.”
No place like home: McMichael continued to dominate at Mingo Park. Last season, she was a mere two seconds from breaking the record, finished fourth at the Mingo Invitation and has won the Washington County Coaches Meet meet two years in a row.
Before she graduates, Kirsten hopes to win four county coaches meets, which has never been accomplished. McMichael will get her chance for a third title Oct. 14, as the Rams host the county meet at their home course in Mingo Park.
“It’s five miles from my house, and I basically train there every day,” Kirsten said. “I know the blind spots, the hills and when to pick up my speed.”
Compiled by Lance Lysowski