Jordan Shead anchored two championship relays at the Class 3A girls track and field state meet last month, winning each by fractions of a second yet hardly leaving doubt.
In what has become a rite of St. Charles East springs, Shead stormed down the frontstretch to help the Saints capture the 4x800 meters and 4x400 en route to the first team trophy in program history after a third-place finish.
A whirlwind season filled with shuffling and lineup permutations ended with the Saints climbing the podium at Eastern Illinois, eager to exhale. All the better for Shead. Along with runners, the Kane County Chronicle Girls Track and Field Athlete of the Year battles sinus troubles stride-for-stride, too.
"You are just really fussing and tired and you want to sleep all the time," Shead said. "You get headaches and a lot of facial pressure and really bad sore throat, and yeah …"
Consider that the lone cringe-worthy attribute of Shead's performance as a senior. Also consider it history, as she is set to undergo surgery to clear her sinuses Friday.
With her upcoming recovery in mind, Shead took to occasional running and biking over the past few days while visiting family in North Carolina.
"Just trying to maintain what I have so it's not totally all gone," Shead said.
Bed rest aside, Shead aims to be as sharp as possible as she prepares for a college career at Notre Dame. Shead committed to the school in January – choosing the Irish over Dayton, Loyola and Wisconsin – on the heels of a breakthrough junior season in which she took fourth in the 3A 400 while helping the Saints' 4x400 to a state title.
While she matched the fourth-place finish in the 400 as a senior, her development in the 800 diversified Shead's skill set while boosting the Saints' medal hopes.
Following coach Tim Wolf's philosophy to "train outside the box," she made her 4x800 debut at the 2013 Kane County Meet as the Saints finished in a county-record 9:20.13. An encouraging split and newfound adrenaline in running middle distance inspired Shead in the offseason.
"She's obviously really talented and she's really fast," said junior Torree Scull, the lead leg of the 4x800, "so once she started the 800, she was really good at it."
Adding the 4x800 and/or 800 to her repertoire also built Shead's endurance for the 400 later in meets. An extra workload did not affect her wind or sinuses much. Shead tried not to think about them, but also knew staying active would help keep any potential problems at bay.
The quartet of Scull, sophomore Anastasia Honea, senior Corrin Adams and Shead competed together for the first time in the state prelims. The 4x400 was a different story, as junior twin sisters Allison and Elizabeth Chmelik returned with Shead from last season's winning relay. Freshman Casey McNichols filled the spot left by Britney Williams' graduation.
Shead, a Saints captain, gladly assumed Williams' leadership void, a role made more difficult by the team's nearly season-long spate of illnesses and injuries.
In the week ahead of the county meet, Wolf said 26 athletes missed at least one practice.
"I think I was ready to step up and stuff," Shead said. "As a captain, I knew that comes with a lot of responsibility. I at least tried to make the younger kids feel comfortable, because there's always lot of nerves. So I'd try to lead by example."
Scull noticed that subtle style in Shead – admittedly "not an extremely loud, echoing person" – upon entering the program.
"She wasn't ever the runner that was so competitive that you came across as mean," Scull said. "She was always lighthearted and really friendly, so she was alot of fun to run with."
Shead looks forward to keeping the momentum going at Notre Dame, and is certain her time at East will provide fuel.
"It was a a really amazing experience, the end of my senior year," Shead said. "I was just really proud of the whole team and how we were able to get a trophy."