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Sunday, May 26, 2024

MHS XC Senior Spotlight – Sara Willadsen


Mansfield Senior, Sara Willadsen is aware of the “Toads In Grandfather’s” story which goes something like this.

A man awoke every morning and swallowed a toad. Day by day the odd ritual occurred without fail. Eventually, a friend just had to ask why a person would do such a disgusting thing. The toad sucking man gave a simple response. “If I eat a toad every morning, nothing that happens to me the rest of the day could be any worse.”

Sara Willadsen, a senior cross country runner for Mansfield, has heard this story many times from her grandfather, Lars Willadsen. It has become her guide, almost an anthem if you well, on how to approach life and respond to barriers that get in the way.

One major obstacle the senior faced this year was that she was locked out of going to her own school. Hartford High School, a place she spent most of her formative years, was closed at the end of her junior year. 

Financial concerns from the Hartford/Hackett school system necessitated the closure of the Hartford campus. Suddenly she had no alternative but to attend a new and unfamiliar place of learning.

Aware of her grandfather’s words, Willadsen responded with a smile. Not only did she embrace her new school at Mansfield, she also found acceptance from a new team. The displaced senior joined the Mansfield Lady Tiger cross country squad.

“The transition went pretty well,” said Willadsen as she reflected on her move to a new school and her first experience with cross country. “I’m super happy. My new teammates have been friendly and accepting. I feel welcomed.”

The former Hartford Hustler had never run cross country before this season. She previously tried basketball, softball, and track at her old school in Hartford.

“I love track,” smiled the senior. “Even if I was terrible at track, I would do it. I’d never run long distance before but I decided to join cross country because others said it would be a good way to get in shape.”

Getting in shape has certainly been the objective planned by Willadsen’s new mentor, long time Mansfield coach John Mackey.

“I think Sara has done fantastic,” bragged Mackey about his new pupil. “Cross country was certainly new to her. She had done several track events, but no long distance training. She signed up the first day of school, allowed us to coach, and the results have been most pleasing.”

The contemporary sport hasn’t been easy for the beginner. High mileage workouts and a weight lifting routine shocked her system for a few weeks. But, Willadsen endured and settled in pretty quickly over the last nine weeks.

Despite a condensed introduction to a stout training schedule, anything was better than the toads in grandfather’s story. Even as the races got brutally tough like the Thrill on the Hill in Greenwood, Willadsen persevered. 

“I stuck with it because I learned to embrace the workouts and enjoy the team,” said the novice athlete. “I think you have to experience being bad at something before you get better. I just had to go through the trials and know it gets better.”

Mackey claims his budding star has raised the bar and established new heights to her athleticism.

“Sara would be the first to tell you she didn’t think she could run that far,” explained the coach. “She started late in the game, but quickly moved up in level. She has a real determination to succeed. She pushes daily, and makes no excuses. I’m really proud of Sara. She’s been one of my favorite players to coach this season.”

Since the first meet of the year, Willadsen has dropped her 5K race time nearly four and a half minutes. At last Tuesday’s race in Mena, she was the number three scorer for the Lady Tigers at a season best time of 28:21.3

“I’m happy in the sense that I see progress,” claimed Willadsen. “I know it’s a process and I see can the line of trajectory. I wish I had known in middle school that this is something I wanted to do.”

When asked about the legacy she’s leaving behind despite a one and done year, the senior spoke with maturity and true self-awareness.

“I feel like I’m trying to be supportive to the younger kids,” revealed Willadsen. “I try to encourage and build them up to an all-star level even if I don’t have enough time to get there myself.”

According to Mansfield’s coach, Willadsen is already an all-star by her actions and work habits. 

“The real measure of a person isn’t always about race place and finishing times,” acknowledge Mackey. “Sara is a good example of that. From what I’ve seen, she is already a winner.”

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