A defining moment in Mackenzie Butler’s 2013 season did not come during one of her many wins or her state race.
Butler remembers standing on the track for the 1,600 relay during the Division II district meet at Westerville South. Butler was hoping to anchor the Panthers to a regional berth.
“As (Bethany Rutherford) was coming down the final stretch, I said: ‘I think we can make it,'” Butler said. “I just went out and tried to catch them. It ended up working out. I was pretty happy about it.”
Butler ran a personal-best 1:00 split to take Valley from sixth to fourth and into the regional. Two days earlier, Butler did the same for the 3,200 relay, taking the Panthers to a new frontier.
“In years past, we didn’t even make it out of the (district semifinals), and everybody would be done before Saturday,” Butler said. “We had pretty much our whole team there practicing with us that whole week. We actually took a bus to district finals. It was just an amazing experience, and I am glad I got to share my final few weeks with my team.”
Butler racked up wire-to-wire wins and come-from-behind victories during her four-year career. During her senior season, it was her ability to lift her teammates on top of another All-Ohio finish that made her The Advocate’s Girls Runner of the Year.
Butler, who will compete at Morehead State in 2014, was the Licking County Honor Roll meet and Mid-State League-Ohio Division champion in the 800. She swept 1,600 and 800 during the district before placing eighth in the 1,600 during the state at Ohio State’s Jesse Owens Memorial Stadium.
“All-Ohio never gets old,” said Valley coach Lori Guest, who retired from teaching at the end of the school year. “I am going to miss that. I had more emotion over that state meet being over than anything else during the past month.”
Butler laughed when recalling she was a 200 and 400 runner during middle school. She knew a transition to longer distances was ahead.
In her freshman and sophomore seasons, she was an ace 800 runner while long jumping and filling holes on Valley’s sprint relays. Her freshman season, Butler narrowly missed reaching the regional, and she was a few steps away from the state meet a year later.
By Butler’s junior season, she started to embrace the idea of focusing on the 1,600. It was the best decision of her career.
“I started falling in love with the longer races, even though most people think that’s crazy,” Butler said. “It is the challenge of pushing your body to its limit and seeing how far you can go. With sprinting, most of it is your body makeup. If you are not fast in the first place, you aren’t going to go anywhere.”
Butler blew through most of the competition in central Ohio in 2012. She capped that season with a sixth-place finish in the state.
The storybook ending did not come for Butler. When she hoped to be at her peak, a bad cold left her drained during the final two weeks of the postseason.
Butler battled her way through the regional and did so again at the state. She still managed to run a season-best 5:08.22 while holding onto eighth in a competitive field.
“Hopefully, she stays injury-free and is able to break five minutes,” Guest said. “I truly believe she was on that path had she not gotten sick the last couple weeks. Her pace work was good.”
Butler is eager to get to Morehead State. She is excited about the potential for variety. Butler did not race too many 3,200s during high school, but the success of former Licking County foes Anna Lamb and Morgan Reichert in the 5,000 certainly has her intrigued about trying longer races.
Butler did not check one final goal off her list at the high school level, but that is only certain to drive her at the next one.
“Maybe the last two weeks of my season (health) definitely held me back,” Butler said. “I think that I would have gotten closer to five minutes if I wouldn’t have been sick, but I just knew I had to finish out the season the best I could given the circumstances.”