Elite athletes have another level that they can tap into when a competition reaches critical levels. Not every competitor is capable of it, and when it happens it can be a mesmerizing sight to see.
As Macayla LaChance crossed the finish line inside the Track and Tennis Center on the campus of Boston University she had just reached that level.
“I’ve never seen her literally be so strong and confident in that last lap. It was really fun to watch, she’s got some wheels,” that was what Anna Steinman, the assistant Coach for Springfield’s girls track and field team, said about the performance.
Two minutes and twenty three seconds earlier LaChance was starting the race, an 800 meter dash, at the David Hemery Valentine Invitational hosted at Boston University.
A premier track meet for New England College’s LaChance knew she would have a lot of eyes on her during the race.“The beginning of the race we all went out really fast. My first lap I looked up and saw my split, and I was really happy with it” she said.
As every lap passes, the tension inside the arena mounts. Those in attendance focus their eyes on that particular race, teammates begin to cheer louder, and every second becomes critical.
LaChance wasn’t separating herself, rather she was getting sucked into the thick of the pack. “I got boxed in and it got hard to control where I was in the race.” The track at Boston University is a bank track, meaning the turns are elevated which makes it harder to pass people.
“I was trying to move past people and it’s really difficult to do that on a bank track. In the middle laps I was literally just pissed off the whole time, I was trying to fight for a spot.”
At that point LaChance had six words on her mind that was bad news for everyone else on the track.
“I knew I could go faster.”
On the third lap she sped up and got herself next to the leader of the race. Then, the switch flipped, and with every stride she took every member of the Springfield College contingent looking on got more excited.
“The last lap I just gave it all I had left, there was something in me that day. Sometimes you just have more of a competitive energy than others and I definitely had it that day.”
She crossed the finish line in 2:23.75 to be exact, a personal record. Her teammates were stunned. Including Kristen Madeia, one of her best friends on the team, had never seen anything like that before.
“On the fourth lap something lit up. She pulled so far ahead of everybody else and turned it over to another gear that we didn’t see coming. We were like ‘did she really run that time.’
Madeia added, “That was a great race, the best race I’ve ever seen Macayla run.”
Adrenaline for the moment, a pissed off athlete, whatever the reason may have been LaChance owned that day and her performance garnered her the honor of Maroon Athlete of the Week. The award is vindication for what’s been a long journey since arriving at Springfield nearly three years ago.
LaChance is from Peabody, Massachusetts. There she ran cross country for four years and played soccer. When the time for college rolled around she made a big decision to give up soccer, a sport she loved and focus entirely on her education and running.
“Soccer was a part of my life growing up, I played it since I was 4. It was really hard to let go of because I’m still really passionate about it,” she said.
Eventually, she was at peace with her decision. “In high school it changed for me with what I liked to do. When I had my senior night I was okay with soccer being over.”
By ending her soccer career the door was open for LaChance to run cross country during the fall at Springfield in addition to doing track and field in the Winter and Spring.
That is a tough switch to make, and other members of the team took notice. “It’s a big change going from soccer to running cross country,” said Madeia.
“I remember the first time seeing her run I thought she ran like a soccer player. The distance running wasn’t something she was used too.”
To LaChance’s credit she took the challenge head on. “Immediately she bought into being asked to run more mileage, and you could kind of see right off the bat that it benefited her,” said her Coach Steinman.
Eventually though, the mileage added up. LaChance made it through the cross country season fine, but at the start of the winter season things changed.
During the first workout of the winter she said, “I felt my achilles pop. I can’t even describe the pain, it hurt so bad.” LaChance was diagnosed with achilles tendinitis and had to shut things down for nearly a month.
“I had to get off of it. I was in the pool all the time and biking 24/7. Even the biking was difficult for it in the beginning. I had to go to the ATs a lot, it was a very long process.”
Between the switch from soccer to cross country and the injury, LaChance’s first year was off to a less than ideal start.
“After being injured for indoor season and coming back for outdoor I was out of shape. So my freshman year was so frustrating because of how my season was going.” Her body had not been prepared for the change in workout regimine.
“I wasn’t use to the mileage. Switching from the high mileage that I had never done in my life to doing speed workouts irritated that area. My body wasn’t ready for that.”
Eventually she returned to health and had to work her way back into performing shape. Between the new style of running and the health issues, LaChance’s circumstances had changed.
‘I would always be comparing my times to what I ran in high school. I just had to come to terms that I was doing things a little different and had different strengths in different areas now.”
Instead of being the quick, short distance runner that she once was she now had the capabilities of running much longer, and still being able to pick up her speed if needed.
By the time she had gone through two years of track her head and body were in the correct place and she was ready to dedicate herself for what was to come.
“Being an upperclassmen this year I trained really hard over the summer so I could come into cross country season already in shape and having the mileage in. That was my gameplan and it definitely helped a lot.”
Now, LaChance is a junior and a leader of the team. Not only has her performance picked up on the track, but she is a leader for her teammates too. Her presence as a person was something Steinman saw in her from the beginning.
“Even before I saw her run she kind of had this thing about her where I knew she was a naturally positive person and leader. That initially, before seeing her run, really stuck out to me,” she said.
LaChance insisted leadership was a team effort, “I think everyone on our team, upperclassmen wise, we step up and just try to all communicate with each other. It’s not just the seniors, the juniors try to contribute and even the sophomores,” she said.
“They’ve been around and when they came in they had three different classes to look up too. We all try to be there for one another. We want to give advice and be good role models.”
Still, the praise always comes back to her as a person, and the impact she leaves. Madeia said, “Everyone looks to Macayla and sees her as a role model.”
“She is a great role model because she’s involved in so much around campus, she isn’t just running. She’s a well rounded person in general and is a great leader in terms of people having problems or just needing someone to talk to, she’s great and always there for the members of the team.”
That impact is important, and huge to the success of a team. With the way she impacts others, it’s no wonder LaChance receives such admiration from others when she does well.
Madeia has been her teammate and friend for three years now, but she said that the race at BU is now her favorite memory of Macayla.
“My favorite moment was her past race. When she crossed the finish line everyone was so happy, I was more happy about her running that time than I was any of my races that season. I knew she was going to be so excited.”
Steinman too holds a memory of Macayla being happy, but for her it was a different race. “It was the meet we had here on December 20th. That was the race we said, ‘Alright, let’s see if we can get that qualifying time.’”
Much like she did at BU LaChance cruised before exploding on the final lap. “Seeing her breakthrough and going over and giving her a big hug, telling her she could do it, and seeing her really smile was a big, good moment from this year,” explained Steinman.
Those moments of pure joy are becoming more and more frequent. Her performance is good for herself and her own success, but even if she doesn’t PR everytime she is leaving a mark on her teammates and coaches.
“Just knowing that Macayla will be there at a track meet makes me not dread it.” said Madeia.
“She is always such a fun, happy spirit to be around. She keeps every practice and meet where we are spending 36 hours at a track sitting around fun. She knows exactly how to lighten the mood.”
She knows how to speed up on the last lap of an 800 meter race, too.