From misery to magnificence, Leigh Moffett has a tale to tell — and one surely subject to judgment.
The Clovis North High senior makes this clear: She ran cross country from fourth to seven grades only because her parents gave her no choice.
"They were runners. They forced me to and I absolutely hated it," she says. "I wanted to quit very badly. I practically cried every run. I once emailed my mom saying, 'This might be your thing, but it's definitely not mine.' "
There's no denial by her mother, Maureen Sheehan: "I didn't want her to be a star, but I wanted her to be in something, and she didn't have the coordination to play other sports.
"No, she was not happy."
Today, she is, as are mom and dad, Michael Moffett, both doctors and former runners at Cornell.
"I'm definitely very happy they pushed me," says Leigh Moffett, the Tri-River Athletic Conference and Central Section Division I champion, a fifth-place finisher in the state, a school record-holder and The Bee's Girls Cross Country Runner of the Year.
And there's more.
Moffett, with a weighted GPA of 4.1, will follow her parents tracks into the Ivy League and run for Dartmouth.
Cornell and Brown of the Ivy League also wanted her, as did Cal of the Pac-12 and others.
"Basically, colleges from every state in the Union," mom says. "And these opportunities definitely would not happen based on her grades alone. Running definitely opened doors that would not have been opened otherwise."
And to think it all began with a disgusted young girl who admittedly had so little balance and hand-eye coordination, "If anybody tripped on a flat surface, it would be me."
Worse, in sixth grade, Moffett was diagnosed with celiac disease, a condition that damages the lining of the small intestine and prevents it from absorbing parts of food that are important for staying healthy. The damage is due to a reaction to eating gluten, which is found in wheat, barley, rye and possibly oats.
"I was malnourished, felt awful and stopped eating," she says. "I couldn't eat cake or cookies. I thought it was the worst thing in my life."
It took a couple of years for Moffett to adjust her diet, restore energy and strength and — a minor miracle — to actually begin achieving success and joy in cross country: "I started to realize I was a runner; something just clicked."
A signature race as an eighth-grader had her beat proven runners Maddy Nikkel and Sami Ikuma for the Clovis Unified District intermediate schools cross country title.
"I had never accomplished anything like that before," Moffett says. "All I had ever received was participation ribbons. That was a changing moment in my mind-set."
That launched a progression that would see the aspiring equine veterinarian improve roughly 30 seconds a year in high school.
It ranged from her placing second in the section D-II final as a freshman in 18:57 to capturing D-I gold this season in 17:44 at Woodward Park's 3.1-mile course.
Then, a week later, at 5-feet-8 and with her long, blond ponytail bouncing from side to side, she torched her own school standard with a 17:25 for fifth in the state final at the same site.
"She earned every step of that," Clovis North coach Jason Lienau said. "It doesn't come by just showing up."
And it all began with a push — a firm one at home.
"It couldn't have turned out better," her mom says. "And I definitely could not have predicted it. She had some genes to make this happen, but she really made it herself.
"Now I have to tell her to lighten up, to take a day off. I'm so happy; I'm so proud."
Runner of the Year: Leigh Moffett
School: Clovis North
Setting the pace: A year after placing second in the Central Section Division I championship at 18 minutes, 7 seconds over Woodward Park's 3.1-mile course, she won the race by 17 seconds in a school-record 17:44. Then, a week later at the same venue, she clocked 17:25 for fifth place in the CIF State Championship D-I race. Only Buchanan's Hagen Reedy (16:59) and Mission Prep-San Luis Obispo's Jordan Hasay (17:02) have run faster in section history. Moffett also won the Tri-River Athletic Conference championship while leading the Broncos to the team title. Next stop: Dartmouth.
Coach says: "Where she's come as a freshman to now is awesome. She became solid as a rock and a gamer on race day. She doesn't have a lot of speed, so I believe she'll go to Dartmouth and flourish at greater distances, in the 5k and 10k, and be a major contributor. She's a great kid, a great student, and we are definitely going to miss having her out here." — Clovis North's Jason Lienau
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