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East County Athlete of the Week: Jessica Neal

The Lakewood Ranch sophomore talks how it feels to run and her love of cabbage soup.

Jessica Neal.
Jessica Neal.
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Jessica Neal is a sophomore girls cross country runner at Lakewood Ranch High. She finished 11th out of 225 runners (18:48.44) on Sept. 21 in the elite division of the North Port XC Invitational at North Port High. Neal will also run track for the Mustangs. 

When did you start running?

I started three years ago. I tried out for the fifth- and sixth-grade track teams (in Southlake, Texas) as a sprinter and got cut. In seventh grade, I tried out for the cross country team and made it. 

What is the appeal to you?

You feel like you are flying. When I am in an area or on the track, with the crowd cheering, I immediately feel like all my chains are off. I feel free. I love it. 

Do you prefer track or cross country?

Track. It's faster, and I don't get lost. Sometimes (in cross country) I go the wrong way on the course and add seconds on my time. I don't follow the signs. In track, you just go. 

What is your favorite memory?

My first 5K in Texas. I was 14 and it was at night. That is when I found out I love running at night. You feel like you can go so fast, it is crazy. You can pass a house in three steps. During the day, it feels like it takes 10 steps. 

What has been your biggest challenge?

Stopping. Playing it smart. I want to run all the time and go my fastest and farthest. The hardest part is not doing that. I still run 15-20 miles a week. 

What is your goal for this season?

I want to get in the 17:00 range. Really, I want to go 17 flat. 

What is your favorite food?

Cabbage soup. Get some broccoli, some cabbage, some beans and some broth. And, most importantly, the seasoning salt. I love it. 

What are your hobbies?

I like to be outside. I like to ride my bike and go swimming and play soccer. I also like to go shopping, and I recently started playing the piano. The kids in my choir class can play along with our songs, so I wanted to be able to do that, too. 

What is your dream vacation?

Paris because of all the art there. I want to see the drawings and paintings, plus I took French for three years and I hear the food is good. I also want to go to Rome because of all the history there. 

What is your favorite subject?

Math. All day I think about things and overthink them. Math is the one thing you can't overthink. An answer is either right or it's wrong. I want to get right to the answer. 

What is the best advice you have received?

Don't quit. I have suffered injuries in the past. I once was out a whole year with a stress injury in my leg and I was not in the best shape afterward when trying to come back from it. But people told be not to give up, and that stuck with me. It made me have a positive outlook on life. 

Finish this sentence: "Jessica Neal is … "

… strong. I have been through tough challenges have have not quit yet. I run because I want to prove myself to people. Before every race, I look at the medal stand to remind myself what I am aiming for. 



Ryan Kohn

Ryan Kohn is the sports editor for Sarasota and East County and a Missouri School of Journalism graduate. He was born and raised in Olney, Maryland. His biggest inspirations are Wright Thompson and Alex Ovechkin. His strongest belief is that mint chip ice cream is unbeatable.

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