TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WTXL) - On Tuesday, the Maclay girls and boys track and field teams kick off Regional competition in Jacksonville with the goal of making it to the State Finals.
This year, the Marauders are led in part by senior Katie Whitworth, a distance runner with a lot of heart and the will to succeed.
"I came back on a Wednesday and he's holding this pamphlet that says pacemaker, and I said my season's over, this is it," Whitworth remembered recently.
She had the shock of a lifetime this fall. Just 17 years old, in the middle of cross country season, the Maclay senior underwent heart surgery to put in a pacemaker, which helps a diseased sinus node communicate with the a-v node in her heart. In laymen's terms, her heart is now functioning and distributing oxygen to her body the way it was intended to, but the scariest part or the whole ordeal? The fear of losing her dream of running in college.
"I was like, I promise I'll get back on the course and run faster, but I was like, this is what's happening to me," she said of having to call college coaches. "I'm having to take two weeks off in the middle of the season and it's not going to be great, but I'm going to do it."
"I wanted to take the pressure off, we'll just deal with this," said head coach Gary Droze. "Typical Katie, she would have none of it. She was just bound, it was just a couple weeks after the heart surgery, she was out there running."
Whitworth and the Marauder ladies ran to second place in the State at this year's 1A Cross Country Finals, and two weeks ago, she signed a Division I track and field scholarship with Mercer University. It's a dream realized after one whirlwind of a year.
"God doesn't put things in our lives that we can't overcome," she said. "It's a blessing in disguise. I know I can do anything now."
"We have kind of our own pet phrase, we like to say 'save our chaos,'" said Droze. "What we mean by that is, it's just rare that everything is going to go smoothly, in running or in life. There's always going to be something that gets in the way of your perfect plans."
"It happens, you know?" said Whitworth. I can't control everything, but I can control my reaction to it. I don't have to be taken down by everything that's trying to take me down. It's not a big deal."
Whitworth said 90% of the time her heart beats, it's with the help of the pacemaker, something she'll have for the rest of her life. As far as running, she's focused on finishing her senior year out strong, and competing at the Division I level.