It started with a suggestion from a middle school gym teacher at Chestatee Academy.
While her seventh-grade class was running the mile, Lindsey Grater caught the attention of her teacher, who suggested she try cross country.
Two years later, the Chestatee High freshman’s competitors are seeing why Grater hasn’t stopped running since then.
She has won her past three races: the Sept. 13 Saucony Invitational at Unicoi State Park in Helen, the Sept. 16 Main Street News Cross Country Invitational at Crow’s Lake in Jefferson and this past Saturday’s Clear Creek Trail Invitational in Ellijay.
Chestatee girls cross country coach Meghann Pruett said Grater’s adjustment to the high school level has been seamless.
“She transitioned from being the big fish in the little pond, and now she’s technically the little fish,” Pruett said. “But she’s not because her times still push her into that big-kid or big-fish realm. She’s just solid.”
Grater thinks one of her greatest assets in cross country is her other sport, swimming. Wes Wessely, the War Eagles’ volunteer coach/trainer, said he’s seen Grater run with his fastest guys in practice, then lead the way in the pool.
The only day Grater takes off from her running and swimming is Sunday. She sees the sports as perfect complements to each other.
“Swimming helps with endurance,” Grater said. “And endurance is very important in cross country.”
Wessely said the aerobic capacity built up by swimming is a major help for Grater’s running.
“Swimming, that’s tough going back and forth in those lanes,” Wessely said. “You’ve got to be mentally strong not to give up, and she doesn’t.”
Pruett said Grater is always smiling, and Wessely suggested the freshman’s “mild-mannered” approach pours into her reputation as an “unbelievable worker.”
Grater isn’t satisfied to rest on her early victories, either. She’s hoping to build on her fast start to high school running.
“It’s been a great experience so far. I really enjoy running a lot,” Grater said. “I enjoy the competition, and I enjoy just the thrill of going out there and racing. I look forward to the next few races I have because I really want to improve upon my time.”
She set a personal record with a 19:52.3 at the Saucony race at Unicoi, which she singled out as her favorite course. Her team’s next race is Thursday’s Mountain Invitational at Unicoi.
“I’m looking forward to it,” Grater said.
Grater’s early returns have her among Georgia’s top freshmen. Wessely said she’s 10th among freshmen in the state on milesplit.com.
Grater said she didn’t know what to expect in high school running and she’s still adjusting to the increased level of competition. One of her main goals, other than improving her times, is to make it to the state meet. She said Wessely has been a major influence in bringing out her best.
Grater knows cross country requires a great deal of toughness.
“Really, it’s mental,” Grater said. “On that last mile, you have to just stick with it and stay strong at it.”
She has some words of encouragement she considers whenever she’s having a tough time finishing: “The faster you run, the faster it’s over.”
Pruett said Grater is impressive beyond her running and swimming exploits. Grater is part of the Renaissance Academy for Creative Enterprises at Chestatee. Teammates already look to her as one of the War Eagles’ leaders. Wessely said they love Grater because of her humility.
“We’re blessed to have her on our team,” Pruett said. “It’s not like we created that. She’s herself, and then we’re just lucky to have her around.”
Wessely said Grater has a perfect mix of traits to be successful.
“All the right ingredients,” Wessely said. “The talent’s there. The mindset is correct. And she has the desire to train hard.”