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In a year of growth and accomplishment, Juneau-Douglas High School runner Leah Francis doubled up on nationally acclaimed athletic achievement awards this past school year.
Francis, who just completed her sophomore year, added the 2008 Gatorade Alaska Girls Track and Field Player of the Year award Tuesday to her already impressive trophy case. Last fall, Francis won the Gatorade state girls cross country award.
The national track and field award will be announced Friday.
"I was really surprised to get two in one year," Francis said. "It is rare for someone to get both of them for cross country and track."
Not only was Francis surprised to win the awards, she was also thrilled to break certain time barriers in her three distance events.
As Francis pushed herself to new heights, she set personal records by dipping her times in her three track events. She cracked the 2-minute, 20-second barrier in the 800-meter run, she bested five minutes in the 1,600 and 11 minutes in the 3,200.
Francis credited her teammates for helping her accomplish the goals.
"At the state championships, I ran a 2:16 in the 800 and that was a big PR (personal record) for me," Francis said. "Katie Krehlik really pushed me in the two-mile (the 3,200) to break the 11-minute mark and, after state was over, Zack Bursell and Hunter Brown paced me to run my first time under the 5-minute mark (in the 1,600)."
Francis became the fifth girl since 1985 to win the 800, 1,600 and 3,200 events at the state track and field championships.
After attaining her goals for the year, Francis may have gained added confidence and found greater reason to believe in her abilities.
"She is so hard on herself and very critical of herself and that is what motivates her to do so well," JDHS track and cross country coach Guy Thibodeau said. "But this year she began the process of learning how to be kind to herself in meeting her goals. She has such high expectations that she still has to look at her goals like it's a long-term process and accept those little disappointments along the way."
Francis is optimistic about improving in the future but faces the challenge of maintaining her high level of competitiveness as her mentor and friend, Krehlik, journeys on to college. Krehlik will attend and run for Northern Arizona University starting in the fall.
"I really hope to keep getting better because I still haven't got used to pushing it when you're out there running alone," Francis said. "With Katie leaving to go to college, I won't have as much competition here in Juneau and that's going to be weird without her."
Thibodeau credits the role Francis' undaunted determination played in her accomplishments.
"It is her self determination to get the utmost out of her abilities," Thibodeau said. "She is so mentally strong and determined to out-work everybody else that she will go out there every day to lay it on the line in every practice."
As Francis gets better and better with each season, so does her growing leadership abilities. She'll be one of the Bears' veterans next season.
"Leah realizes that seniors like Katie Krehlik have shown her the way to take the focus off herself and have a good attitude by helping others on the team and notice what they are doing helps take the pressure off oneself," Thibodeau said.