Early last week, South Tahoe sophomore Carissa Buchholz was worried that she wouldn't be able to race in the Nevada Interscholastic Activities Association Class 3A Track and Field Championships.
Her knee was swollen and she was experiencing pain but she didn't remember anything that might have caused an injury.
"I was definitely worried I wouldn't be racing," Buchholz said. "Nothing in particular happened, there was just swelling. I was kind of panicking."
But she knew, once she toed the start line, adrenaline would kick in and that knee pain would likely disappear.
The pain did disappear — and so did her challengers.
Buchholz left everybody in her wake and won state championships in three long-distance running events Friday and Saturday, May 18-19, at Carson High School in Carson City.
She won the 1600 on Friday and on Saturday claimed the 800 and 3200 about 30 minutes apart.
"I've wanted the state title in those three events and I wasn't going to let this minor setback stop me," Buchholz said. "I went into all my races trusting myself, that I did all the hard work and everything I could to get through the season. I was like, 'I made it here and I'm here to show everybody that I'm here.'"
Buchholz said competing Friday was "easy" because she had fresh legs. She finished the mile in 5 minutes, 14.25 seconds and was almost 4 seconds ahead of the field.
She was thankful after the race that she could go home and spend the night in her own bed.
"Being able to go home Friday — I loved it so much you don't even know," Buchholz said. "In Vegas last year, traveling gets you so dehydrated and you don't get to sleep in your own bed, you're in a hotel. But after racing Friday, I was able to immediately come home with my parents. I got to eat a home-cooked meal and go to bed early. I felt like it was a huge advantage."
She had swelling in her knee that night and had limited range of motion. She gave it as much treatment as she could and "by Saturday, I was good to go," much to the despair of her competitors.
Buchholz came frustratingly close to setting the Vikings record in winning the 800. She finished just .08 seconds shy of setting a new standard and beat the field by nearly 2 seconds with a personal best time (2:18.42). Thirty minutes later Buchholz was running away from the pack in the 2-mile race. She cruised to victory by almost 5 seconds (11:24.25).
"South Tahoe has produced some great distance runners over the years, both male and female, and Carissa is certainly near the top, especially considering she is only a sophomore," said Vikings head coach Mark Hoefer. "As long as she continues to love the sport and shows the drive she has now, the sky is her limit. She pushes herself both athletically and academically. As a coach it is sometimes difficult to get her to back off a bit in her training, so that she doesn't over do it early in the season. As for her three races at state, she took them one event at a time, and made sure she was ready for each, even when she only had 30 minutes between the 800 meters and 3200 meters. She led each race from start to finish, and just picked up the pace each time another runner tried to come around her. In my opinion, she really wasn't challenged in any of them."
Buchholz basked in the glow of victory Saturday night and treated herself to one of her favorite meals, a sushi burrito. She enjoyed an ice cream sandwich for dessert.
But there's no rest for the driven athlete. Buchholz intends to enjoy her summer and let her body bounce back from the rigors of training, but also plans to compete in a relay race around the lake. And she definitely wants to be ready for cross country in the fall where she is the defending state champion. She now only has herself to compete against.
"I was so close to the school's 800 record and that kind of frustrates me knowing I was so close," Buchholz said. "But now I'm thankful I have another goal to work toward. I'm now my greatest competition. I put a lot of pressure on myself to do well. I went into state with a lot of pressure, but that helps push me. It's driven me to get PRs and better finishes. The pressure has given me the determination to push harder. I'm so proud of myself."
Given the goals she has already achieved, Hoefer suspects Buchholz could hold a trio of school records.
"I think if she continues running like she is right now, and shows the improvement I think she is capable of over the next year, she could very well own all three records (800, 1600 and 3200) by the end of the 2019 track season."
Note: Carissa Buchholz winning three long-distance events at the state meet is an amazing feat. But last season South Tahoe senior Maya Brosch claimed first place in four events, the 200, 400, 100-meter hurdles and 300 hurdles.