Junior Mia-Claire Kezal competes in soccer and track and field for Thornton Academy. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

Mia-Claire Kezal, a junior at Thornton Academy, could be seen running throughout her Saco neighborhood this winter, completing loop after loop after loop.

Running is her passion. Her first memory of a race was running a mile at 5 years old.

Now 17, she has developed into one of the state’s top 800-meter runners and recently finished 11th in the Adidas Indoor National championships in Virginia Beach, Virginia, with a personal best of 2 minutes, 17.19 seconds.

She also plays soccer for the Trojans and is involved in the National Honor Society and Community Leaders Club, a community outreach club at  the school. George Mendros, the longtime track coach at Thornton, said Kezal is the type of athlete who can succeed at any event.

“She’s motivated and does anything you ask,” he said.

We recently took time to talk to her about school, track and the national meet:

Q: What has the school year been like this year, not just athletically, but overall?

A: Obviously it’s been different due to the pandemic. But I feel the teachers have done a very good job at keeping students involved in the classroom and online. Being at home (for remote learning) Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, that’s  been the huge difference. It’s been kind of weird, going to school on Monday and Tuesday with less than half the student body there. The atmosphere isn’t as lively or as much, fun, I guess, as you might think. You are only seeing the same people. I don’t see people with names L-Z at all. I’m in the cohort of A-K for last names. That’s probably the biggest difference.

Q: With practices limited, how do you do your workouts?

A: I was able to get on our track a few times, to do a few workouts, but mostly I did them throughout my neighborhood. It’s big enough so I could do 400 and 500 loops and I could even do mile repeats and long distance.

Q: Track is such a social sport. What do you miss most about not being together in practices and meets?

A: It was hard, especially for sprint work, not having teammates there pushing you. So I focused on times I try to hit rather than the fun, friendly competition at practice. I have friends at Bonny Eagle that I don’t see anymore because meets would be time we see each other. It’s been kind of sad I don’t get to see all the friends you would see on the track and have that competition of wanting to beat each other but then hugging each other after for PRs and other celebrations. I definitely miss the welcoming atmosphere at track meets.

Q: What was it like competing at the nationals?

A: It was so much fun. I’ve been trying to qualify since my freshman year, and I’ve missed out by a few seconds each time. To finally be able to compete at the national meet was a dream come true. And then, to be on the line with these amazing athletes and to be able to watch some of the races was amazing. It was so inspiring to see this, how hard so many people have worked when we don’t know when our next track meet would be.

Q: Were you pleased with your result?

A: Yes and no. I was happy I was able to come out with a PR. Only a third of a second but still a PR. Where I’ve been doing a lot of training by myself, I was happy to see that. But I really wanted to get lower than that. So I was a little disappointed.

Q: Why do you like the 800 so much?

A: I guess I really like the tactics and the skills that goes into running an 800. It’s a very difficult event, because it’s basically a sprint for half a mile. Sprinting is not my strong suit … You’ve got to go out fast – you can’t go out at a 400 pace but you can’t go out too slow. And the last 200 is about the person who can hold onto the pace best. That’s how you’re going to win the race, if you can hold onto the quicker pace the best.

Q: What did you learn at nationals?

A: In my heat, the people went out very fast. I wish, rather than being more concerned about splits, that I went out with them. I wish I had been a little more daring and gone out at the quicker pace and seen if I could have held on a little better and stayed closer to the lead pack.

Q: You also play soccer. How did that come about?

A: I’ve been playing about 10 years. I played everything growing up: basketball, lacrosse, softball. I even danced for a few years.

Q: Your father, Kevin Kezal, is the head football coach at Thornton Academy. Did you feel the need to play sports because of that?

A: I don’t remember what got me into playing sports. I think it was just a love of being active and wanting to be outside.

Q: His football team had its fall season canceled. And your soccer season was modified. Did it help to have each other to lean on?

A: It was good that we were all able to share just, I guess, the sadness of not being able to have a traditional season, or for them not really having a season.

Q: What are your hopes for the spring?

A: Assuming that we have a true spring season, I’m hoping for some PRs in the 800, 1,600, 3,200 and maybe the 400.


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