Win tickets to see the smash hit musical Mamma Mia at the Roanoke Civic Center. Two winners will each receive four tickets!
The Blacksburg senior has overcome more challenges than most, but she kept right on running and is getting faster.
Jon Fleming | Special to The Roanoke Times
Blacksburg senior Rachel McCoy has been getting faster and placed eighth at the Group AA state cross country meet.
Friday, May 31, 2013
Rachel McCoy is running better than ever.
As her senior season at Blacksburg High School has progressed, her times have gotten faster, her race finishes higher.
That's the way it's supposed to be in a system coach James DeMarco shapes to help his athletes to continually improve over their years at the school.
Many of those athletes suffer setbacks, and McCoy is no different.
Her main setback was more serious than most.
As a freshman she was diagnosed with cancer.
But this is not a comeback story.
It can't really be, because McCoy never left.
"I never stopped running," McCoy said. "They said it wasn't going to make anything worse."
Today McCoy will run the anchor leg on the Bruins 3,200 relay team, which enters the two-day state meet with the top Group AA time.
Saturday she will run the 800, an event in which she has the 10th best time coming into the meet.
McCoy is also a star student, ranked fifth in her class.
She was the recipient of the prestigious Artie Levin Personal Life Award award at the recent B'nai B'rith awards, and is headed to Carnegie Mellon University.
McCoy plans to run for Carnegie Mellon, which is known for its excellent engineering program.
She said she considered walking on at a Division I college, but ultimately decided that running for a Division III program would be a better fit.
"At college, I wanted running to not be the front runner for my time," she said.
Four years ago, this kind of conclusion to a high school career seemed likely for McCoy, who had a great work ethic to complement the brains and running talent she had been blessed with.
Having split her attention between running and soccer in middle school, she went all in for running in high school.
Early in the fall of her freshman year, McCoy showed quick improvement in cross country, and was covering 5K courses in about 21 minutes.
"James says its great to be a young runner because you get to PR every week," McCoy said of her coach.
But then the PRs stopped coming.
McCoy was working hard but just didn't have much energy.
She went to a doctor for blood tests so see if she was suffering from mononucleosis or an iron deficiency, which is common in high school girl runners.
Tests were also conducted for thyroid function, another possible contributor to fatigue.
The results were inconclusive.
McCoy had noticed a lump on her throat, and a biopsy was taken early in the winter.
Doctors said there was only a 10 percent chance the lump was cancerous.
"But we decided surgery was the best option," McCoy said.
During all this, McCoy continued to train with the Bruins.
"The first thing the doctor had said was, '[Thyroid cancer] is a good cancer,'" she said, laughing. "That's always the first thing I tell people about it.
"I wasn't really worried about it. It wasn't really a big deal."
DeMarco was amazed at his athlete's attitude.
"She was a real trooper through the whole thing," he said. "It was much harder on her mother."
McCoy's parents, Alicia Cohen and Jim McCoy, work at Virginia Tech.
McCoy's surgery was scheduled for the Friday before spring break of her freshman year.
The timing would give her time to recuperate without having to miss much school.
Not only could McCoy not stand to miss running, but she also didn't want to fall behind in class.
A test during the surgery confirmed the presence of cancer, so surgeons took out both sides of the her thyroid, and also removed several lymph nodes.
The three-hour procedure was successful and McCoy was home a day later, and back running with her teammates shortly after.
During her recuperation, which included periods where she had to avoid medication that simulated hormones produced by the thyroid, McCoy had to fight fatigue.
"I slept a ton and even easy runs took a lot out of me," she said.
Not able to race much, she still went to meets to support her teammates, and sometimes helped with timing.
"One of our assistant coaches started calling me Coach McCoy," she laughed.
DeMarco said McCoy's leadership has been critical, particularly on this year's Bruins team, where underclassmen dominate the distance squad.
"She's a nurturer, but not in the general way," DeMarco said. "More like in the military way.
McCoy admits she felt frustrated by the time it took her to regain her running form.
Her sophomore season she failed to best any of the times she had run as a freshman, or even some she ran as an eighth-grader.
Teammates and coaches never wavered in their support.
"They were always there encouraging me," McCoy said.
Things improved during the fall of her junior year, and McCoy nearly made the varsity for the state champion Bruins.
But then during the indoor track season she developed Achilles tendinitis and had to stop running.
"I did a lot of swimming, biking and [weight] lifting," she said.
Last spring McCoy earned her first all-state award, as a member of the Bruins' runner-up 3,200 relay team.
This fall she solidified her spot on the Blacksburg varsity cross country team and was a consistent scorer.
Her best race of the year came at the best time, when she finished eighth in the Group AA state championships.
A mile into the race McCoy was with teammates Jenn Fleming and Claire Ewing-Nelson in the middle of the pack.
"I was probably in 60th place," she said.
But while other runners were slowing, McCoy was getting stronger.
"It felt great," she said. "I lost a sprint [to Christiansburg's Mikayla Richardson] at the end, but at least it was to someone I knew."
Milling around the finishing chute, McCoy was dazed. Only teammate Bonnie Angermeier, who was third, was there.
"I was a bit confused," said McCoy, who figured things out when she learned how high she had finished.
Keeping track of places is usually easier on the track.
McCoy knows she'll likely have to run her best 800 to earn an all-state award in the race.
"My goal is to break 2:20," she said.
Who would bet against her?
Weather JournalStorm track isn't very snowy for us