It's hard to tell what was more stressful for North Fort Myers High School girls cross-country runner Kayla Easterly, her run during the District 3A-11 cross-country meet at Veterans Park in Lehigh Acres or the trip over there.
The team's van blew a tire on I-75 on the way to the meet, causing a delay in the start of the meet and leaving the team a little discombobulated.
Easterly wasn't in the van, but the delay was a distraction, as it was for everyone else. She got over it and ran one of her best races, finishing second with a time of 18:49.50, just six seconds behind Kristin Gear of Fort Myers.
Her performance allowed the senior to advance to regionals this weekend in Estero as an individual. Her team did not advance.
Easterly said it was the course that was most challenging, with the large hill that tends to separate the good runners from the rest.
Thankfully, the weather was nice and the course dry, which made it a little faster than usual.
"I've run the course a few times, so I'm used to the hill and can anticipate how my body will react to it," Easterly said. "I'm happy considering how the course runs. To run it in under 19 minutes is awesome."
Easterly and Gear raced to the front and exchanged the lead before Gear, Easterly's only real competition, finally broke free late after outlasting several charges from Easterly.
Easterly said the Estero course is very similar to Lehigh, with the huge hill and sand dunes that make the course even slower. She has run the course numerous times and knows the challenge.
"Hopefully the course will be dry and they won't have the hay bales out there, but it's definitely a more difficult course," Easterly said.
Easterly's North career started with a splash as the girls team went all the way to states.
However, those girls graduated, leaving her as the teams' top gun without them able to immediately replace those seniors with similar talent.
Easterly said it's hard not being able to move on with the team, especially as her high school career winds down. She added that her biggest thrill was being able to progress throughout her career.
"It's more fun to go to races with the team. Hopefully the team will grow and be as good as we were when I was a freshman," Easterly said. "So many runners go out real strong as freshmen and sophomores and peak there. I'm glad I've progressed significantly."
Coach Christine Castillo was happy with the team that had small numbers and few experienced runners. All of them ran personal bests at the district meet.
She said Easterly has been a positive influence on the team, as they are following her training habits to improve.
"If she's training on the weekends, they are. They see how hard she trains and want to mimic that. Runners are coming up to me and asking if they can be as good as her," Castillo said. "They have goals of having a better season next year."