Commentary

Michigan state champ Goethals never rests

Updated: September 21, 2009, 1:45 PM ET
By Ryan Canner-O'Mealy | ESPN RISE Magazine

[+] EnlargeMegan Goethals
ESPN RISE Magazine Megan Goethals finished third at the Foot Locker Cross Country Championships in 2008.

Megan Goethals certainly deserved a rest after last spring's outdoor track state meet. The Rochester (Rochester Hills, Mich.) star earned a pair of gold medals, winning Division 1 state crowns in the 1,600 and 3,200 meters.

So how did she relax on the day after her dual triumph? Maybe with a trip to the movies or the spa?

Not a chance. Goethals "took it easy" by going on an eight-mile run.

"That right there tells you how much she loves to run," Rochester coach Larry Adams says.

It's that desire and commitment that have made Goethals, now a senior, the best distance runner in Michigan and possibly the nation.

For as good as Goethals' performance was in last spring's state track meet, it paled in comparison to the show she put on during the 2008 cross country campaign. She claimed the Division 1 state title and won the Foot Locker Midwest Regional crown before posting the top finish by an underclassman (third place) at the Foot Locker Cross Country Championships in San Diego. Goethals' journey to the top has been a crazy one. She hasn't followed the typical trajectory for a star in a sport where freshmen often rank among the best runners in the country. In contrast, Goethals barely ran as a freshman, playing basketball instead. Then as a sophomore, her rise to elite status was delayed by a mystery ailment that prevented her from reaching her full potential.

But to understand how she got to the peak of her sport, we have to go back to the beginning.

Goethals made her debut on Rochester's varsity cross country squad as a sophomore and proved she belonged right away. By the end of the season, she had compiled a resume most runners would have been thrilled with: Division 1 team state champion, 23rd individually at state, 64th at the Foot Locker Midwest Regional, All-State selection.

Not bad, right? Not good enough for Goethals. But no matter how hard she pushed herself to improve, she could sense something was wrong.

"At the end of races, I would need help standing up," Goethals says.

After the season her parents took her to a doctor, who diagnosed Goethals with a severe iron deficiency. She started taking pills and felt better almost immediately. That spring, she finished fourth in the 1,600 and sixth in the 3,200 at the state meet. Finally healthy, Goethals was able to exert herself in the summer of 2008 like never before. After running 35-40 miles per week with no weight training the previous summer, Goethals began running 50 miles and lifting three times per week heading into her junior year.

"I trained with the boys on our team and I got pushed every day," she says. "I kept getting stronger."

The increased workload and more intense training paid off. On the heels of a really good sophomore season, Goethals turned in an out-of-this-world effort as a junior.

She completed an undefeated in-state campaign by winning the Division 1 state title in a time of 17:10.1, setting a course record at Michigan International Speedway.

From there, she headed to Wisconsin for the Foot Locker Midwest Regional, where a top 10 finish would qualify her for nationals. As always before big meets, Goethals had butterflies in her stomach and wasn't sure how well she'd do. She expected to be in the top 10 but didn't envision a top five showing. All nerves and doubts vanished once the race started.

[+] EnlargeGoethals
ESPN RISE MagazineGoethals also took home two gold medals at the Michigan state track meet.

"When the gun goes off, she's as tough as anyone competing," Adams says.

Goethals made her move late, overtaking Missouri's Emily Sisson in the final 200 meters to finish in 17:31 and win by one second. It was the type of push that wouldn't have been possible a year earlier, when Goethals struggled with fatigue down the stretch.

The victory touched off a frenzy of excitement for Goethals. She couldn't believe how far she'd come in a year. In 2007, she watched the Foot Locker Cross Country Championships on her computer, wishing she'd have an opportunity to compete in it one day.

"I didn't think I had a chance in the world of ever getting there," Goethals says. "I thought the girls there were amazing. I just wanted to meet one of them."

Before she lined up at nationals, Goethals was even more stressed than she was at regionals.

"I thought I was going to throw up I was so nervous," she says.

She started toward the back but eventually made her move. As she picked off runners one by one, she was no longer satisfied with just meeting her competition. She was focused on beating them.

"It was so cool," Goethals says. "I would see them in the race and say to myself, 'Wow, that's so-and-so. I've seen her in so many races.' When I was going past them, I'd be thinking, 'I shouldn't be able to pass her.'"

There were only two runners she couldn't pass: champion Jordan Hasay of California and runner-up Ashley Brasovan of Florida. So her unbeaten streak came to an end, but a third-place finish at nationals was better than anything she could have imagined.

"I never would have guessed in a million years that I could have done this well," Goethals says.

The magical year continued in the spring, as she claimed her state titles in the 1,600 and 3,200.

And she hasn't stopped moving since.

As her eight-mile run the day after winning those championships proved, she's never satisfied. She ran 50 miles per week last summer and upped that to 60 this year.

What, you expected her to slow down?

Ryan Canner-O'Mealy covers high school sports for ESPN RISE Magazine.