Close call motivating Liberty’s Lukac

LIBERTY – Whether it’s a light jog, intense practice or high-level meet, Liberty senior Courteney Lukac focuses on 2:20.173.

It’s a time she can’t erase.

Numbers she can’t escape.

But now, it’s a hurdle she’ll have to overtake.

Lukac missed qualifying for the Division II state championship meet as a junior by mere hundredths of a second in the 800-meter run. Lukac placed fifth at the regional, with her time of 2:20.173, while Mallory Myers of Cuyahoga Valley Christian Academy crossed the finish line at Austintown Fitch High School ahead of her in 2:20.166.

“It was so close,” Lukac said. “I was pretty nervous. Putting all that hard work into one race, it really hurt because I was so close. My coach had to go look at the pictures to make sure she did beat me.”

Just to get to that point, though, Lukac had to beat mononucleosis.

“I couldn’t practice for the two weeks prior to regionals,” she said. “I was at the point where I was too sick to run. My doctor told me if I run, I could die.

“My best time prior to that race was 2:23, so my coach was impressed that I could run that fast after being laid up in bed for two weeks.”

Aliments are nothing new to Lukac, though the mono symptoms were the toughest to overcome.

Her sophomore year, she suffered through tendinitis after playing Junior Olympic volleyball and running a rigorous routine regularly. Lukac still played two more years of volleyball for the Leopards, but now the focus is on her senior track season.

“I don’t have those problems now,” she said. “I know how to take care of myself. No more jumping, just running.”

On March 8, Lukac placed fifth at the state indoor track championship in Akron.

“She was a good 2 to 3 seconds faster than she was last year,” Liberty track and field coach Jay Cripe said. “Weight training has really made a difference for her. That has led to helping her endurance.”

Lukac also is on the 4×200 and 4×400 relay teams and occasionally runs the 1600.

“The 800 is her main focus,” Cripe said. “The 200 and 400 help her speed, while the mile helps to build her endurance, too.”

Lukac’s motivation for her senior year needs no encouragement.

“This year, I want to accomplish running the best I can and I want to see how far I can push myself,” she said. “I’m putting no limit on myself – this is all out. (The regional finish) really motivated me this year. It really put things into perspective and helped me realize what I want to accomplish.

“Every moment of training I think of that seven-thousandth second of a difference. It makes me want to go that much faster all the time.”

Lukac carries a 3.5 GPA at Liberty, taking mostly honors classes. She plans to major in fashion merchandising in college.

“I always wanted to be a fashion designer and I’ve found that I have a really strong business sense,” she said. “This combines the two.”

She won’t be ditching the running shoes for designer heels, though. In fact, she’s a hot commodity at the next level.

“Just the other day I had 17 emails from colleges interested in having me run for them,” Lukac said. “I’m so excited to get on that level – I’d love to be with a Division I program because I know I can do well.

“For me, it’s only the beginning of my running career. I am going to run in college. My senior year is just showing everyone what I’m capable of now. I’m leaving my mark in high school. I’m also going to prove to myself that I can make it to state.

“I want to be the underdog going in, and I want to work my way to be No. 1. That’s how my high school career was. I was that freshman girl who was kind of fast but had a lot of room for improvement. Now, I think I’ve put more of it together to be one of the better runners around.”

There really is no limit for Lukac, now, or in her future.

“She’s as self-motivated as they come,” Cripe said. “She’s determined and her possibilities and potential are endless.”