Female Athlete of the Year: Moffat County’s Eryn Leonard | CraigDailyPress.com

Female Athlete of the Year: Moffat County’s Eryn Leonard

Nate Waggenspack
Eryn Leonard runs away from the field in the 1600-meter run at Moffat County's home track meet, the Clint Wells Invitational. As of last weekend, Leonard is a state qualifier in the 3,200 and the 4x800 relay. Leonard and her coaches attribute her success in endurance sports to a strong sense of commitment and an ability to focus on the race at hand.
Nate Waggenspack
Eryn Leonard approaches the wall in the 100-meter butterfly at Moffat County’s home swim meet last season. Leonard took eighth in the event at the state meet. Swimming, which Leonard considers her favorite sport, will become a year-round pursuit when she attends Colorado Mesa University next school year and will be a member of the school’s swim team.Nate Waggenspack

For Moffat County senior Eryn Leonard, the higher-profile sports like volleyball, basketball and soccer never took hold.

As a result, she competed in front of a home crowd just three times during her senior season. But Leonard never has needed screaming fans to motivate her; the satisfaction that comes from a race well ran (or swam) was enough.

She has made a lifestyle out of competing in fringe, endurance sports as a member of the girls cross-country team in the fall, a distance runner on the track team in the spring and a swimmer in the summer and winter.

“I’ve always been good at the endurance stuff,” Leonard said. “It’s just one of those things where I’ve enjoyed doing that more than playing basketball or volleyball. I like the adrenaline rush.”

So while much of her competitive time has been spent elsewhere on the Western Slope, when you produce results like Leonard does, the news tends to make it back home all the same.

First, she was a member of the girls cross-country team, which took sixth at state. Leonard was the Bulldogs’ first or second finisher at every meet and recorded the team’s fastest individual 5-kilometer time with a 19:09 at the 3A Region One meet to lead Moffat County to a team win there.

With hardly any time off, Leonard’s favorite sport, swimming, got started in the winter. She qualified for state in the 100-meter butterfly and 50 freestyle, making the finals and placing eighth in the state in the fly.

“I was happy I made it to state, and then it was the best when I got my fastest time in finals,” she said about the experience. “It was thrilling to go against such talented girls.”

Now Leonard has run state-qualifying times on the track in the 1,600, 3,200 and as part of the 4×800 relay.

If those results don’t speak highly enough of Leonard’s ability, her coaches will.

“She’s phenomenal,” swimming coach Meghan Francone said. “The growth that she’s made since I started coaching her is amazing. And she became a true leader for the other girls” on the swimming team.

Part of Leonard’s success comes from an ability to focus solely on the race at hand, her other swim coach Anita Reynolds said.

“She knows the second she’s behind the block, she starts to go through the race in her head until she touches the wall,” Reynolds said. “She’s just so mentally prepared, and you always know what you’re going to get from her.”

With Leonard, as with all other great athletes, her success comes from a determination to be prepared and the willingness to sacrifice her time in the name of getting better.

“I always ask myself, ‘Why am I here?’” Leonard said. “The answer is because I enjoy it. So I’ve got to put my heart into it, or I’m going to be disappointed in the long run.”

Swimming will become a year-round pursuit when Leonard attends Colorado Mesa University next school year to be a part of the Mavericks’ team. Looking back on her time at Moffat County, she hopes the next four years can be just as good.

“I was actually expecting to do better this year than I did,” she said. “But now that I look back on everything, I wouldn’t have done anything different. I’m happy with how it’s turned out. Now I’m trying to use the energy from cross-country and swimming, how they ended, and channel that into track so I can finish well.”

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