Sarah Carpenter is stronger than most will ever know.
Plagued by injuries for the first three years of her high school track and field career, the Highland senior has been through enough physical and emotional pain.
Carpenter fought through all those feelings of, “What if this happens?” and put together one of the best seasons a sprinter has had at the school.
She did it all with a trademark smile and overall competitiveness that were second to none.
“This year, I don’t know, I’ve been more positive because I know what it feels like to have pain,” Carpenter said. “I had to stay positive for the other girls.”
That mindset and leaving her mark on Highland’s record books were among the reasons Carpenter was selected as Gazette MVP.
Carpenter had every reason to be salty. Injuries to her hamstring and quadriceps, among other things, forced her to watch from the sideline for a good part of three seasons, but she made the most of her senior year.
“She was motivated to get in a full season because she hasn’t had one in four years,” Highland coach Paul Lushes said. “I don’t know if you ever overcome that, but she fought through it. She was always nervous, but she’s very tough — both physically and mentally. It takes mental toughness to excel in the events she did because there’s very little room for error.”
Carpenter responded by breaking her school record in the 200-meter dash, helping the school’s 4×100 and 4×200 relays set program standards and making a trip to Columbus to run in front of thousands of fans at the state meet.
“It’s my senior year, so I had to give it my all and whatever happens, happens,” she said. “I just forgot about it and ran the best I could.”
The 5-foot-5 speedster not only overcame pain that might have sent other athletes running to the training room, she left her competition in the dust.
Whether it was running the 100, 200 or anchoring one of the sprint relays with Sam Duale, Emma Grantier and Colleen Hoynes, Carpenter was downright impressive.
It didn’t come by accident, as she worked tirelessly at practice to improve. She even worked with another Highland great, Kent State standout Kristen Hutchings.
“Sarah’s a very gifted and natural athlete,” Lushes said. “This year she really worked hard on her blocks and starts in the 100 and 200. She was really getting good starts at the end of the year. As far as our relays, her and (Grantier) had some of the best handoffs around. They never slowed down.”
It started at the Suburban League Championships, where Carpenter won the 100 and 200 and anchored the 4×1 and 4×2 to first-place finishes. That trend continued at the Lakewood District and Amherst Regional.
At Lakewood, she advanced in both relays and was runner-up in the sprints before punching her ticket to state in the 200 and 4×1, with the latter winning the regional championship.
Carpenter went on to help the 4×1 to a school-record time for the fourth time this season with a 48.18 in prelims before the group placed sixth in the finals to earn All-Ohio honors.
While Carpenter and her teammates wanted a faster time in their last race, she wasn’t going to let that ruin a moment she had been waiting for through all the rehab. She stood on the podium with that same smile that helped get her through it all.
“Even at state, I still felt a little pain in my leg, but it was great,” Carpenter said. “It kind of made me wish I didn’t get injured because it was an awesome experience. I couldn’t have asked for a better season.”
Contact Dan Brown at firstname.lastname@example.org.