Lee's Halbrook rebounds to earn state berth

Robert E. Lee senior Abby Halbrook crosses the finish line first to win the District 12-5A race last month at UT Tyler. Halbrook overcame a fall at last year's regional meet to come back and qualify for state at last week's Class 5A Region II meet. She now competes at state on Saturday in Round Rock. (Victor Texcucano | Tyler Morning Telegraph)

Abby Halbrook crossed the finish line to qualify for the 5A state cross country meet in a time of 17 minutes and 53 seconds.

It was good enough for seventh place in the Class 5A Region II race. The top 10 qualified for state, so Halbrook had accomplished her goal. She will now compete on Saturday in the UIL Cross Country Championships at Old Settler's Park in Round Rock.

She is the first Lee runner to qualify for the state cross country meet since Katie LeSauvage did it in 1995. LeSauvage went on to finish fifth at state.

The girls 5A race is scheduled to begin at 12:40 p.m.

At last year's regional race, Halbrook was in eighth place with just 30 yards to go. She finished a minute and a half later in 27th.

An offseason of determination and drive enabled Halbrook to achieve and overcome what happened 12 months ago.

 

THE FALL

Abby Halbrook opened her eyes. The finish line was still within her reach about 30 yards away. She had fallen, but there was still a chance to get up and finish the race and qualify for state.

"During the race I am pretty sure my body went numb. … I had to really fight my way to get into eighth place. I had maybe a 10- to 15-yard lead on (the next runner) so I was good to go," Halbrook recalled. "And then I felt like my body just slowed down and the energy just drained out of me. I couldn't' see straight; I got really, really dizzy. I tried to speed up because I always like to finish strong, but I just remember that I couldn't and I just fell."

Halbrook said her mother tried to reach out and help her, but she waved her away because that would've disqualified her.

She stood up and tried to continue, but immediately collapsed again.

A minute later, an exhausted but determined Halbrook did cross the finish line of the 2012 5A regional cross country race. The top 10 qualified for state. She was eighth when she fell the first time.

She finished 27th.

"I just remember the (race finisher) saying, ‘You've got to move!' and me saying ‘I can't.'"

Later in the trainer's tent, the realization of what just happened began to sink in for Halbrook.

"I was still kind of in shock at that point because I still (had posted a personal record time) even though I fell and a minute later crossed the finish line," Halbrook said. "I was glad that it was my junior year, meaning I had one more year, but the fact that I came so close and just fell short, 30 yards, I just felt so defeated."

 

THE DRIVE

Halbrook said her family, friends and teammates showered her with well wishes, cards and flowers.

"I realized how blessed I was to have the whole community behind me. It was a humbling experience and it gave me motivation and drive (to get back to work)," Halbrook said.

She immediately got with Lee coach Dennis Baker and they worked out a plan to improve her time and accomplish her goal of reaching state.

"During the summer I ran more; I added more mileage to get a better base foundation for the season," Halbrook said. "I was just like, nothing is going to get in my way."

Once the season began, Halbrook ran with her teammates, but also went to two different meets in order to see what her regional competition would be. She finished fifth at the Marcus Invitational with a personal-record time and was 14th in the Chile Pepper Cross Country Festival held in Arkansas.

She followed that by capturing her fourth-straight District 12-5A title.

All that was missing was finishing it off at regionals.

A year earlier, the race was at Vandergriff Park in Arlington, but this year's race would be held at a new site, Lynn Creek Park in Grand Prairie.

 

THE FINISH

Halbrook lined up and quickly settled into the top 10. She was running in sixth place.

"Really I was kind of at an awkward place because 20 yards ahead of me was first, second, third, fourth and fifth, and 20 yards behind me was seventh, eighth and ninth, so I was kind of by myself," Halbrook said.

As the finish line neared again, after a year of working, Halbrook stayed with her plan.

"Close to the finish a girl passed me, but at that point I was thinking I am not going to try and sprint at the end, I am just going to qualify," Halbrook said. "At the end of the race I felt good. I felt strong. I am pretty sure I was running with a big smile on my face because I knew I was going to state."

 

THE MEET

Halbrook wants to put together a strong time at the state meet to finish it off and impress the numerous college coaches that will be there. Halbrook already has a visit planned to Texas A&M, but for now is keeping her options open.

"I want to end on a good note, so I am just going to give it my all and try and get in the top 10," Halbrook said. "My mindset wasn't just to peak at regionals, but to peak at state. I want to PR at state. I want to finish this race better than any race I've raced before."

 

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