SARASOTA — Hadleigh Schwartz stood at the starting line in anticipation, as a single gunshot reverberated through the air.
Within seconds, the Pine View School eighth-grader was forced into the inside lane, along with the other 19 girls in her heat of the 1,600-meter run. It was a situation Schwartz was unaccustomed to, having completed at least 200 meters before being allowed to move into the inside lane in all of her previous races.
As she began to settle in, a racer fell, causing officials to restart the race. Although she knew what to expect the second time around, Schwartz was more focused on the experience than anything else.
The experience proved to be beneficial for Schwartz, 14, who crossed the finish line in a personal best 5 minutes, 37.23 seconds to finish 31st out of 60 runners at the Florida Youth Running Association Middle School State Championship May 10.
It was Schwartz’s first time competing in the state championships.
“It was pretty exciting,” says Schwartz, who was the only runner from the Sarasota area to qualify for the 1,600. “I knew I wasn’t going to win, so I was just going for the experience.”
Schwartz started running competitively when she was in sixth grade, having participated in her first competitive race — the Ringing Bridge Run — when she was 12 years old. She won her age group and quickly realized she might have a future in running.
“I had never run a race before that and it was pretty fun,” Schwartz says. “I thought it might be nice to do it more regularly.”
Schwartz joined the Pine View track team a year later and began running the mile.
“I’m definitely better at longer distances,” Schwartz says. “I rely on my endurance. So, with shorter distances, it’s harder for me to push myself.”
By the end of her first season with Pine View, Schwartz was the No. 1 ranked seventh-grader on the team.
This season, Schwartz went undefeated in the mile, winning four regular-season meets and breaking the 6-minute mark.
She then went on to win the Middle School County Championship May 8.
“I actually felt really bad while I was running it,” Schwartz says. “It (had been) raining and it was dark and windy. I wasn’t very motivated. I actually was hoping the meet would be canceled.”
With her final middle school season behind her, Schwartz is now focusing her attention on preparing for her first high school cross-country season.
Schwartz runs anywhere between three and eight miles, five days a week. She also plays tennis three days a week at Celsius Tennis Academy.
Schwartz will attend her first Sarasota High cross-country practice June 2. She also plans to run track for the Sailors in the spring and possibly play tennis as well.
But, for now, Schwartz is looking forward to the experience of competing at the high school level.
“They train really hard at Sarasota,” Schwartz says. “I just want to improve my time a lot because I know I’ll have tons of girls there to push myself against.
“After breaking 6 minutes, I didn’t expect to do much better,” Schwartz says. “But I keep getting so much better that it’s hard to believe almost.”
Contact Jen Blanco at [email protected].