Whenever Daisy Heath does a warmup mile at practice, the Hebron senior thinks back to a time, not all that long ago, when she struggled to finish it.
"I'd be dying," she said.
Now Heath is able to knock out 4 to 6 miles with regularity, reflecting her rapid transformation from rookie distance runner to varsity contributor made possible in large part by a 70-pound weight loss.
"People have come up to me, bawling, adults even," Hebron coach Mike DeFries said. "They've seen her run and they're inspired, so happy. Everybody knows Daisy. She's the baseball and boys basketball team manager. She's a girl everybody thought was a great kid, a good helper, and all of sudden, she's a varsity runner on probably one of the best teams we've ever had."
Toward the end of her sophomore year, Heath started a concerted effort to lose weight, something she endeavored to do before, with little or no success.
"I've always had a struggle with my weight," she said. "I was always trying and I always failed. Then I finally lost some. I saw what I could do and I was motivated. I changed everything. I really trained myself."
Initially, Heath's activities centered around biking and an elliptical machine in her house. Before track last spring, coach Rhonda Walker approached her about doing sprints.
One dash and Heath was done.
"I didn't like it," said Heath, who had been a thrower since sixth grade. "It was hard for my breathing."
Heath tried the 800 next and soon was doing the 1,600. Not only did she like it, she was pretty good at it, and DeFries, also the boys track coach, took notice.
"I saw her running the mile and it was like, wow, she's kind of a natural at it," DeFries said. "She wasn't just out there, she was really running. She was in great shape. I really started bugging her about (cross country)."
It didn't take a great deal of persuasion. Heath fit right in with the distance runners in track, the same girls who comprise the cross country team.
"I'd always done sports, but I'd never won anything. My sister (Dani) was always winning," she said. "I decided to (run) in the summer and it was really fun. I fell in love with it. I like pacing myself, challenging myself. There was a family feeling, a feeling that I was a part of something that I'd never had before. Everybody was so welcoming, so accepting."
As summer progressed, Heath found herself keeping up with Hebron's pack, making DeFries think his back-of-the-lineup problems might be resolved.
"We had a couple kids not come out, so I didn't know who was going to be our No. 7," he said. "She didn't have a real good base -- track was her preseason -- but she was staying with it. The coaches all say she could go to college and be a manager. I'm thinking she could go to college and be an athlete."
Heath ran her first race at last Saturday's North White Invitational, where she placed 38th, including sixth on the team, which won the title.
"That was a rush, too," she said. "I was really happy how I did. I felt comfortable. I knew who I was with, so I just paced with those girls. I felt so good after the race."
As well as the physical improvements running has helped bring about, it has also changed Heath's personal outlook.
"It's made me a lot more confident," she said. "I'm not scared to try new things anymore. I challenge myself. I love (running), how it feels afterward. Once you start, you can't stop. I'll do it forever."