Three-time Alaska state girls' cross country champion Leah Francis will be trading her Juneau-Douglas crimson for Stanford cardinal red next year.
Francis chose to run for one of the top college cross country teams in the nation, which, she said, was an easy decision. She also was considering Oregon, Oregon State and Brown, but Francis had her heart set on Stanford.
"I really liked (Stanford). There's nothing about it I didn't like, and I'm really excited to go there," she said. "Their running program was a big part of (my decision), and aesthetically, I like the school. I can see myself living there. The cross country team seems like a family and every one is friends. They seem like they genuinely want to help you in every way possible.
"As soon as I found out I got in, I wasn't considering anywhere else."
Francis is one of the top students in her class at JDHS, and she plans to study English and premed.
"I'm really interested in their medical program," she said," and if I want to go to grad school there, it will be an option."
JDHS girls' cross country coach Merry Ellefson said Francis is one of the most talented runners she's ever been around.
"She's definitely the best runner (I've had), and one of the best that this community has ever seen," she said. "I'm absolutely thrilled for her because I know it's been her desire to go to Stanford and it's really competitive and difficult to get in.
"For me, as a coach, she's been one of the biggest role models for me to grow and continue to try to figure out where she is to both follow her and guide her at the same time," she continued. "She's and extraordinary human being, and I'm just really, really happy for her. They will benefit from having her there and she'll grow from being there."
Ellefson said a whole new world will open up to Francis after working with some of the best coaches in the sport, and there's no telling how far shecan go.
"She's going to move into a whole different level of coaching, competition and people to guide and train her based on her strengths," she said. "She's really strong in a variety of distances and I think her coaches are going to be working with her to try to figure out where she can excel at the collegiate level.
"She's a strong woman. She might be a steeplechase person, or she might be middle distance," she continued. "I'm just really excited to see where she'll be after working with one of the best coaching teams in the nation. She's getting into where the big girls are, and she'll have the best around her to help her identify her strengths and how to work to improve those."
Francis will have a lot of hurdles to overcome if she wants to excel at the collegiate level against a whole different class of runners, but she's already overcome a lot. After winning the state 5k championship as a freshman, sophomore and junior, Francis finished 21st as a senior after taking ill about a week before the championship meet and collapsing at the finish line due to exhaustion.
But she's not dwelling on it. In fact, she's completely put it behind her.
"It was out of my control and I had the swine flu. I just collapsed. But it's not something that bothers me," she said. "I know that things are out of your control sometimes, and it happens to the best runners. I've seen people bonk in huge races, so I'm over it and I'm ready to get better."
Francis knows she'll have to start all over and work her way up in college.
"I won't be the best runner on the team my freshman year," she said, "but I'm going to try hard every day and get better like I did in high school."
Ellefson said Francis has always been a leader, a role model and someone this community can be proud of.
"I think it's really important to know that she grew up in a town that really supported and cheered for her running, and she gave back everything that people gave her," she said. "We're just excited to see where she heads."
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