SPRINGFIELD — Running on the varsity cross country and track team isn't intimidating at all for Candace Kieffer. The freshman for Effingham County competes like a veteran and, with it being her first year at the high school level, Kieffer could develop into one of the better runners in the state long before her senior year.
"The feeling that racing gives me and that feeling (of achieving a new personal record) makes me passionate about the sport," Kieffer said. "My teammates keep me passionate about the sport as well. My teammates push me to be all that I can and I’m so thankful for them, especially the distance runners."
Kieffer laced up her first pair of track shoes when she was in the sixth grade. Initially, she didn't think she'd be a distance runner but she's developing into one of the strongest competitors in the 1600 and 3200.
"I had always been told I was fast, so I tried out for track thinking I’d be a sprinter. But my coaches pushed me to try some of the longer distance races," Kieffer said.
The budding track star doesn't let her age keep her from giving her best. Although she's been pleasantly surprised at her recent success, she's getting used to the idea and the feeling of winning.
"It’s still such a new feeling being so successful as an underclassman," Kieffer said. "It’s almost unreal because I’d always thought I’d be an average athlete, but my success in cross country changed that. All of my success is because of my coaches, teammates and the talent that God has blessed me with."
Kieffer credits her growth on the track to multiple people that have helped her flourish this season.
"I’ve had great coaches throughout the years, including Hannah Darling, Jim Everett, Krissy Lewis, Mark Weese, Greg Mainor, Tom Onorato and PJ Richards," Kieffer said. "I’ve also had many experienced teammates and past teammates that help me with things such as pace and strategy. They have pushed me to be the best I can be and they have taught me things that have helped me become very successful in the sport."
The move didn't come without a few hurdles. Kieffer had to learn fairly quickly to adjust to the tempo and speed of those around her.
"One of the biggest adjustments I’ve had to make running in middle school to high school is figuring out how to run the events I’m in," she saidr "In middle school, I ran completely different events than I do now in high school. A huge part of racing is strategy and getting your pace down, and I’m still trying to figure those things out because I’ve only ran those events competitively a few times."
Kieffer boasts a time of 5:55 in the mile and 20:32 in the 5K. She achieved a new PR in the 3200 with a time of 12:21 last week in the Candace Hill Invitational in Rockdale. Although her numbers are excellent for a freshman, Kieffer isn't going to settle for less.
"By the end of the season I hope to bring my times down significantly," she said.