The nature of a high-level athlete is to never stop.
Tired? Push through it. Sore? Push through it. Frustrated? Push through it.
That drive can separate the good from the great. But it can also be the downfall of an athlete.
Kacey Doner’s problem has never been work ethic. Rocky Mountain High School cross country coach John Prasuhn calls her a “dream to coach.”
So when Doner’s junior season turned into a nightmare, it was tough for everyone.
“It’s frustrating as a coach because you feel for the athlete,” Prasuhn said. “You know how hard they’re working, especially last year. She was working so hard and then was getting in the races and just did not have it for 5K.”
Doner excelled early in her career. She was at the state cross country meet as a freshman and sophomore, finishing 91st and 33rd, respectively. She also shined bright at a national meet as a freshman.
But things went south her junior year. She was putting in the training but couldn’t perform up to her expectations and eventually missed out on qualifying for state.
She had lots of leg pain and finally found out she had a stress fracture, an injury where pushing harder just makes it worse.
“It was definitely mentally hard because you know you want to be up there and you did all the hard training, but you just physically can’t,” said Doner, now a senior. “I came into the season feeling so strong, then I couldn’t hit the times I wanted. It mentally drained me.”
She had to do the thing runners hate most. Not run.
After the 2014 cross country season, she shut down for eight weeks to heal.
She worked her way back far enough in the spring of her junior year to qualify for the Class 5A state track and field championships in the 3,200-meter run, where she placed 17th.
She slowly built up her endurance over the summer in preparation for the cross country season.
And now she’s fully back. She won the John Martin Invitational, placed second in the Front Range League meet and third at last week’s regionals.
Now she’s returning to state, saying her goal is a top-10 finish at Saturday’s championships in Colorado Springs.
Her comeback helped lead the charge for the Lobos, who qualified as a team. They missed out last year with injuries to Doner, Elsa Roeber and Callin Naddy sinking their hopes to make state.
“The whole team was (miserable),” Prasuhn said of 2014 and their motivation in 2015. “Remember how helpless you felt last year.”
Now Doner is fully ready to go.
How badly does she want to run at state?
“So bad,” Doner said. “I had to watch last year and it was really hard.”