by Hannah Leese and Sarah Schwartz, Sports Reporters
photo contributed by Lucy Jenks
She ran a 63-second final 400 meters. And she was a junior in high school.
It’s the girls’ one-mile final of the 2019 Massachusetts High School Indoor Track State Championship, and Lucy Jenks, then a junior at South, is in the lead with Natick senior Grace Connolly closely in pursuit.
Jenks rounds the final bend with Connolly still right on her heels. In the final stretch, Jenks uses her lethal kick and pulls away to cross the line first.
Steven McChesney, the girls track and cross country coach, said he knew going into the last lap that Jenks had it.
“Grace has already made a tactical error, and she can’t match Lucy kick for kick,” he said. “Her last 400 is like ‘wow.’ It’s just amazing.”
Jenks and Connolly often competed head-to-head in the most competitive meets. Just one year and one town separated the two, but their relationship extended past that rivalry, McChesney said.
“People misunderstood their rivalry. They knew they liked each other, but people observing from afar didn’t know that they had a bond of respect. That bond of respect turned into a bond of roommates,” he said.
Jenks graduated South in 2020, joining Connolly to run track and cross country for Stanford University. In the three years since, Connolly said they have grown close as roommates and teammates.
“She feels like a soulmate,” she said. “She is so confident in herself, but also radiates this positivity that we all really feed off of. We do some pretty difficult workouts here at Stanford, and she is just always someone who we can rely on, whether that’s pacing us or leading that front group and bringing us all together throughout the workout … She just cares so deeply about all of us and will go out of her way to chat with anyone and everyone on the team and really just cares about how people are doing.”
Julie Mallatt, Jenks’ mom, said that the best part about cheering Jenks on is seeing her joy.
“She’s really good at seeing the big picture,” she said. “She isn’t spending a whole lot of time putting pressure on herself about it. It’s all about enjoying it and enjoying school and enjoying your friends.”
As a runner at the Division One collegiate level, Jenks said that she appreciates the Stanford team’s camaraderie and their bond.
“What I really love about running in college and at Stanford specifically is just how good and deep our team is. It’s really special to be able to be pushing yourself really hard with all these girls right next to you that are just as competitive and just as willing to work hard,” she said.
Jenks just completed her third cross country season for Stanford and has already been named an All American and two-time U.S. Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association All-Academic.
She was a part of the PAC-12 XC championship team in 2020-21, and as a sophomore she placed 15th in the 5,000m at the NCAA outdoor track championships. She said that a lot of this success is due to training with McChesney in high school.
“Steve did a really good job preserving me. There’s a lot of girls that I see now in college that were better than me in high school and were training so much harder than me in high school, and don’t have as much room to grow, whereas I feel like I was able to just naturally progress and get better,” she said.
Although it may be surprising, Jenks was not originally a runner, nor a distance runner when she joined track. As a kid, Jenks was not initially particularly athletic, Mallatt said.
“When she was really young, we thought her brother and sister were the most athletic because they just were high energy and really very, very active in sports. Lucy, we always thought, was not that way,” she said.
However, Mallett said that at just five years old, Jenks proved her family wrong.
“Lucy ran around the track and won it by so much, she beat third graders and fourth graders,” she said. “We were like ‘wow.’ We had no idea,” she said.
Jenks’ running career didn’t end at age five — she won eight track state championships and set the All State indoor mile meet record in high school, where she juggled varsity and club soccer with running, and ran just indoor track her first few years.
When Jenks first joined South’s indoor track team as a freshman, she began with sprint events, not distance. McChesney had known about her speed — she ran under 13 seconds for 100 meters in middle school — but had no idea about her amazing endurance. Within a few meets, Jenks transitioned from running 300 meters to 1,000 meters and has been a distance runner ever since.
Although she shone in her individual events, McChesney said she was just as dedicated, if not more, to team relays. Jenks led South’s girls 4 x 800 relay to All State wins three times.
“She loved that as much as anything else that she’s done as an individual,” he said.
Senior Amelia Everett, who will join Jenks on the Stanford team next year, and currently holds six All-State mile titles herself, ran with Jenks her freshman year. Everett said that in addition to her incredible athletic feats, Jenks is a team leader and a positive presence on all of her teams.
“Lucy is very competitive and focused but also knows how to have fun,” she said.
Jenks played high school varsity soccer for three years before transitioning to running cross country in the fall of her senior year. Her combination of speed and stamina made her a dangerous wing.
As a freshman, she was 10th in scoring in the Dual County League and was the team’s Rookie of the Year. Going into her senior year, she was a league all star and was elected to be one of the team’s captains.
Ultimately, Jenks quit soccer to run cross country her senior fall. She said she decided to pursue running, as it provided her with a wider range of opportunities.
“[I thought], ‘Okay, wait, I think this running thing can take me a lot further than soccer can’,” she said.
Girls soccer head coach Doug McCarthy said that the team appreciated her contributions while they lasted.
“We all hated to lose her on the team. People just enjoyed having her as a teammate, and she would have made a fabulous captain,” he said.
She hasn’t slowed down since, nor forgotten her roots, McChesney said.
“She texts me and says … ‘Oh Amelia ran so well. I’m so glad you guys made it to States,’” he said. “She knows and remembers where she came from,” he said.