PORT ANGELES — Everyone describing Gracie Long points out that while she is not very demonstrative, her quietness hides a will of steel.
She showed that will this spring. Again and again. Surprising opponents and track fans alike all spring.
And with that will of steel she also showed a penchant for drama.
Long, the state champion in the 1,600 and the second-place finisher in the 3,200, set all-time school records in both events. For her amazing accomplishments her senior season, she has been selected by the Peninsula Daily News as the All-Peninsula Most Valuable girls track athlete.
Long joins her younger sister Millie as an All-Peninsula MVP this school year. Millie Long was named the All-Peninsula MVP in both soccer and basketball.
Long had a disappointing season of cross country. She had seven first-place finishes in the early season and appeared ready to win league and district titles, and perhaps place in the top 10 at state. But she was stricken with a combination of a congestive illness and asthma. She kept running through it, but unable to breathe properly, she finished 13th at league, ninth at district and 42nd at state.
For anyone but Long, that would be considered a highly successful cross-country season.
“It was hard. It was really frustrating. I just couldn’t go as hard as I knew I could,” Long said. She thinks there is something in the air in the Olympic Peninsula in the autumn that affected her lungs. In the spring, she was 100 percent.
Maybe even beyond 100 percent, as mathematically impossible as that is. Long recovered and the disappointing end to cross country seemed to light a flame under her and push her to accomplishments beyond what she had ever done before. She was nearly unbeatable all year long.
Look at the record: 400 meters (not her specialty), two first-place finishes; 800 meters, four first-place finishes, two seconds; 1,600 meters, eight first-place finishes; 3,200 meters, six first-place finishes and a second.
In short, in 23 distance races this year, she finished first in 20 of them. Her only 3,200 second-place finish was at the 2A state championships.
On top of all that, she also high jumped, winning that event seven times and finishing 11th at state.
On top of that, she ran on the Roughriders’ 4×400 team, helping the team win five times and finishing 11th at state.
On top of THAT, she also finished fifth out of 32 girls at the state multi-sports heptathlon, a special event held after the state track and field championships for elite athletes from around the state. She finished fifth even though she had done few field events such as javelin or shot put.
What drove her? That poor end to her cross-country helped.
“I don’t ever want to feel that way again,” Long said.
“Inside she has a lot of steel,” said her track coach Bob Sheedy. ” She’s willing to go through a lot of pain.”
In end, she said that disappointing cross-country season made her track accomplishments all that much more worthwhile.
“It showed me to never take running for granted,” she said.
Keep in mind, Long was not the top-ranked runner in the state going into the 1,600 or the 3,200. She was in the top 10 in the state in both races and placing in both races would not have been a shock.
But, she blew away several runners who came in to those races who had come in to state with better times than her.
In the 1,600, she faced off against Sedro-Woolley’s Kristen Garcia, who had beaten Long in a race in the same Mount Tahoma stadium way back in the eighth grade. Garcia and Long battled down the stretch, stride for stride over the last several hundred meters, neither girl giving in. In the end, Long won by 0.37 of a second. She also broke five minutes with a school-record time of 4:58.72.
“Tht’s one of the few races I’ve ever seen like that. Neither girl was going to give in. Gracie outlasted her,” Sheedy said.
Sheedy said that at the beginning of the year, he asks his track athletes to set goals for themselves. Long proclaimed her goal was breaking 5 minutes in the 1,600.
“I said … ‘OK, Gracie…’,” Sheedy said, not sure at the time if this was a realistic goal. “But, there’s a trust factor there. What she was saying was ‘you have to help get me there.’”
The 3,200 managed to be even more amazing. Long was well back on the final lap and put on a massive kick, passing five or six runners on the final lap. In another 100 meters or so, she might have caught Garcia, who won the race in 10:55.26. Long finished second in 11:00.89, another Port Angeles school record.
“That’s absolutely unheard of” to see a kick like that in the final lap of a 3,200, Sheedy said. “Kristen won, but Gracie stole the show. I’ve never seen anything like that. She has a heart you can’t measure.”
The scary thing? Sheedy thinks Long is just beginning to do amazing things on the track.
“Her potential is untapped,” he said.
All-Peninsula Girls Track
MVP — Gracie Long, Port Angeles
Aubry Botkin, hurdler, Port Townsend, nine firsts, sixth at state
Maddie Dougherty, distance runner, Port Angeles, 11 individual and relay firsts, 10th at state in 3,200
Millie Long, relays, hurdles, Port Angeles, 20 individual and relay firsts, third at state in 300-meter hurdles
Miriam Wonderly, relays, sprints, Clallam Bay, 19 individual and relay firsts, eighth at state in 200, 4×200 relay
Hannah Olson, relays, sprints, Clallam Bay, 17 individual and relay firsts, eighth at state in 4×200 relay
Enid Ensastegui, distance runner, Forks, four firsts
Elizabeth Sweet, pole vault, triple jump, Sequim, 11 firsts, sixth at state
Raine Westfall, discus, shot put, Crescent, 10 firsts, 10th at state in shot put