When Portage freshman Rhyan Sloan describes herself as a middle school distance runner, she laughingly says, 'Below average.'
"I wasn't even going to do track," she said. "It wasn't fun in middle school."
As track season approached, it took some coaxing from teammates and Indians cross country and assistant track coach Jay White to convince Sloan to put on her spikes.
"They told me it will help push you, make you better for cross country," she said.
At the time, Sloan would've never imagined being a contender for a regional berth in the 3,200-meter run, but that's where she stands as Portage heads to Chesterton today for the sectional.
"She was always one of those kids we thought had potential," White said. "It was just so sudden, like, boom, here I am. It's a case of just gaining confidence as the season went along, understanding more, getting used to the work load. It just all came together."
Sloan's ascent began inconspicuously back in October when she stunned everybody by winning the Duneland Athletic Conference JV race.
"It blew us away, how out of the blue it came," White said. "She was in third place at the two-mile mark, within striking distance. I told her, 'Hey, go for the win.' She had a grin on her face. The next time I saw her, she had a pretty nice lead. It was pretty neat. She had the fourth-fastest time on the whole team that day. It caught us way off guard."
White wasn't the only one who was surprised.
"I didn't think it would ever happen," Sloan said. "It was nothing really different. I wasn't varsity, so I knew it was the last race of the season. I wanted to make it count, leave a legacy as they say."
Sloan trained with the team the rest of the season and the confidence boost carried her through the winter.
"I ran every day," she said. "I knew if I stopped, I wouldn’t be as good. I knew (track) was a different sport with different races. I didn't know if I was good or not."
Primarily a two-miler, Sloan ran a personal best of 11 minutes, 53 seconds at the Lime City Relays. She also had an eye-opening performance against Chesterton, rallying late in the race to best the Trojans' Melanie Buckmaster.
"We have a goal for freshman to get under 12 (minutes) and I had a feeling she might break it," White said. "It's been fun to watch her, kind of sneaking up on people all spring. Her times have just continued dropping. She had a little taste of success and just kept building on that. She enjoys what she's doing. She works hard every day and now she's starting to run with the big dogs. "
A 3.9 student, Sloan has found a parallel between the academic success she's always had and her new-found running success.
"You have to push yourself, believe in yourself," she said.
Sloan hopes to improve on her PR tonight and qualify for the regional. Come cross country, she's looking forward to making the jump into the varsity lineup. It's safe to say there won't be any more second guessing about running.
"I really like it," Sloan said. "It's something I can do the rest of my life."