Produced by Tony Jones/images by C. Clayton
Over the past decade the state of Illinois has seen a resurgence of fast times in the middle-distance races from the girls. Arguably, they may be better than their male counterparts on the state and national levels. The list is long if you consider the likes of Samantha Polock (Wheaton North), Sequoia McKinney (South Holland Thornwood), Casey Short (Naperville Central), Ashley Verplank (Bloomington), Stephanie Brown (Tri-Valley), McKinzie Schulz (Lisle Benet Academy), Amanda Duvendack (Metamora), Syndni Meunier (G.C. Melvin-Sibley), Lindsey Rakosnik (Glenbard East), Shakeia Pinnick (Aurora Waubonsie Valley), and of course Rockton Hononegah’s Courtney Clayton.
Clayton, though, is of the same DNA of the aforementioned standouts but she is aiming to supplant herself apart from the rest. After playing the bride’s maid the past several years in state annals, this may be the year that the state’s top middle-distance runner will be strictly a 400/800 runner as opposed to the hurdler/miler type. The Vanderbilt University bound Clayton is very specific about her goals for 2013 campaign as well as the future.
Illinois Prepster: Could you briefly tell us how you got your start in running? Did you play participate in other sports prior to concentrating on track?
Courtney Clayton: I got started in track about 6 years ago. I remember in grade school and middle school I would always play tag with a group of friends and I was able to out run many of the boys! During gym class in middle school we would participate in athletic testing and I always performed well. From there I pursued middle school track as well as club track. I participated in many sports when I was young. I tried soccer, I competed in gymnastics, attempted swimming, played volleyball and ran track. The two I enjoyed most were track and volleyball. I was on the Hononegah volleyball team my freshman year and also played competitively in club volleyball for a few years. I eventually gave up volleyball completely and focused on running.
IP: Hononegah has a rich history of girls track and field, especially long sprints and middle-distance. Was it your plan to be among the all-time greats in your school’s athletic fame?
CC: I don’t think it was my plan to be a Hononegah all-time great. I would say, however, it has always been a plan to be the best I could possibly be. I’ve been blessed to have many supportive people around me, to remain healthy, and stay competitive mentally. I think all of this has led me to the successes I’ve had and I’m extremely grateful!
IP: You have demonstrated courage as well as range competing extremely well in races from 400m to 3miles. How are you able to excel in such an array of events?
CC: If you put your mind to something anything is possible. When I go out for an event (even if I don’t think it’s my best event) I’m going out to win.
IP: To most people around the state, you were a bit of a surprise when you beat the heavy favorite Lindsey Rakosnik (Lombard Glenbard East) to win the 800 state title last year. How did you accomplish such a feat?
CC: After achieving second place to Lindsey my sophomore year, I wanted to know what it felt like to be a state champion and to be the best. I really look up to Lindsey as a competitor and knew it would take a lot of dedication and hard work to beat her. I am very grateful to my coaches who put together a great training program. I had a lot of brutal practices some of which I would run with the Hononegah boy’s team. Each time I felt that I couldn’t finish the workout I reflected on my goal of being a state champion and how much effort it was going to take to come out on top.
IP: We really haven’t seen you compete in the mile on the big stage. You obviously have the speed, strength, and endurance to do so. Are you going to take a few serious cracks this season?
CC: This year my focus is going to stay on the 400 and 800. My coaches and I really want to see how fast I can become! Midway through my college career I will be flexible in moving up in distance. First though I want to max my sprint capability out.
IP: The 800 is your bread and butter event as everyone knows. The sickening 2:08.48 that you outputted ranks #3 all-time for an Illinois girl. Will you attempt to override Shelly McBride’s amazing 2:07.4 mark?
CC: Last year I was only focused on winning state in the 800; however, I knew in order to be able to come out with the win I was going to have to go sub 2:10. Now that I have achieved that goal I am gunning to break the 29 year old state record as well as defend my title.
IP: Or will you double again at state and run post-season to break it?
CC: I’m not sure what events I will compete in at state this year. My coach and I have talked a little about it and I would like to double in the 400 and 800 again, but a relay could be a big possibility too! I am so excited about what this track season holds not only for me but for our team; I believe Hononegah will have a number of girls competing down state this year!
IP: We understand you are committed to Vanderbilt University as your college choice. Could you tell us why you chose such a great academic institution to attend?
CC: I chose Vanderbilt because they are strong academically and athletically. Vanderbilt is in the SEC and I really wanted to run in one of the top conferences. The coaching staff has shown its dedication to team development and what their future plans would be for me. One of my desires was to be trained as a 400/800 meter runner with distance mixed in but not run cross country. Vanderbilt has aligned with this. I also felt a connection with the girls on the team. I’m excited for what the next years at Vanderbilt will hold for me and my future team!
IP: What are you going to major in and why?
CC: At this time I am undecided; however, I am considering psychology or kinesiology. Both of these areas would be assets in assisting me in becoming a track coach in the future.
CC: I enjoy Facebook and Twitter. I think they are a great way to socialize with your friends and keep up with what everyone is doing around you. I also like to follow various athletes on Twitter such as Nick Symmonds and Sanya Richards!
IP: What kind of fun do and your friends partake in away from the sport?
CC: My friends and I like to go shopping and go see movies. We love taking the train into Chicago for shopping and good food (two things I hope will be outstanding in Nashville). I love the summer; it is the best because we all go to the pool or the lake everyday!
IP: What is your favorite junk food and when do you allow yourself to enjoy it?
CC: Reese’s peanut butter cups and KFC’s fried chicken!(: When I eat KFC it’s more during the off season but I’ll have it a few times during season too. As an example, last year after finals at state my teammates told me I could choose where I wanted to eat, so right after we went straight to KFC! Ha-Ha-Ha…it was a good reward.
IP: You seem to be a nice young lady on the surface but do you have a mean streak that your teammates or opponents to watch out for?
CC: I get along with people extremely well and I’m a very social person in general, but when I’m on the track, it’s strictly business and I’m going for the win.