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As baseball players tossed baseballs and infielders fielded groundballs one late afternoon at the West Brunswick High School baseball field, the conversation among the spectators was about the Trojans and their prospects in the upcoming Junior American Legion playoffs.
But about a half-hour before this game—and several others this summer—one of the athletes was dressed not in a baseball jersey but in shorts. And just as you would expect to hear the ballplayers recite before each game the code of conduct, you also could expect to see Blythe Butler jogging on a path outside the baseball field fence along U.S. 17. Her brown ponytail bobbing with each stride, Butler was a distinctive—and curious—sight before many of the baseball games.
“A few people have stopped me,” Butler said. “This one lady stopped me a couple of weeks ago and she said, ‘I’ve seen you running all the time. I just want to let you know it’s a really good habit to have.’ ”
Butler, a WBHS 2008 graduate, developed those habits while running cross country and track. She also developed good study habits: she consistently won team awards for having the highest grade-point average and she is the WBHS 2008 senior class valedictorian. She will attend UNC in the fall and plans to study environmental science.
“It’s been a really good high school experience as far as running and academics,” she said.
The end of Butler’s high school athletic career does not mean the end of her desire to be a runner.
“It’s something to do to keep in shape,” she said. “It’s also something to relieve stress.”
So she runs 30 to 45 minutes, either in the morning or late afternoon, up to five days a week.
“I’ve always liked running,” she said. “My freshman year I just decided to try out for track. (The coach) asked me if I would run the two-mile race. She knew I had the capability to do the distance. And we didn’t have a lot of long-distance runners.”
Butler accepted the offer and eventually ran in three distance events: the 800 meters, the 1,600 meters (one mile) and the 3,200 meters (two miles). Of the three, the 3,200-meter race was her favorite.
“I did a lot better in the two-mile run than the one-mile run,” she said. “I tend to do better in the longer distances just because I can keep up my pace. I don’t necessarily have to go incredibly fast. The one-mile run is actually a pretty fast event (of four laps). The 800 is kind of rough, because that (two-lap race) is pretty much like sprinting throughout.”
Butler says the two-mile run is not as much of a drudgery as it may seem. It is not an event that attracts many runners. One reason is that the two-mile race is the next-to-last race at track meets—track meets that can last three hours or longer.
“There were probably two or three of us that ran the two-mile,” Butler said. “One year I was the only doing it at all.”
And Butler enjoyed it.
“The two-mile run is my favorite event,” she said. “It’s kind of weird. It’s kind of relaxing. It gives you a lot of time to think. I don’t know (why), but I always enjoyed that event.”
Her first race, she said, “I probably enjoyed the most.” The race was at White Oak High School.
“It was freezing,” Butler said. “And I was like, ‘Oh, man, what did I get myself into?’ We were in the bathroom where they had heaters.”
Another competitor, also a freshman, was also there trying to stay warm near the heaters.
“We ran the race, and she got first place and I got second,” Butler said. “That’s when I knew I wanted to get more serious about running.”
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For most of her career, Butler avoided injuries (she was also a cheerleader). But Butler did have soreness in her hips during her sophomore year in track, and that sidelined her for a few weeks.
“During that time,” she said, “I wanted to get back to running. After that, I really haven’t had any injuries.”
Butler said she won more races in the two-mile track events than she did in the 3.1-mile cross-country events, but she did have some highlights in cross country.
“My sophomore and junior years of cross country were my best seasons,” she said.
In her junior year, Butler qualified for the cross-country state meet. She qualified from the regional—not as part of a team but as an individual, a much more difficult task.
“We didn’t have enough runners to qualify as a team,” Butler said.
She finished 16th against the top runners in the area.
Running in the state meet at Tanglewood Park in Clemmons was one of the highlights of her cross-country career. She finished 64th out of 130 runners in 21:47. Only 14 runners ran faster than 20 minutes.
The other highlight was in a rainstorm in a meet in Wilmington.
“We didn’t think we were going to make it to the meet,” she said. “The windshield wipers broke on the bus. We thought the meet might be canceled. We finally got the windshield wipers working, and when we got to the park, it was still raining. We got out to run, and I won the race. After that, I loved running in the rain.”
Butler’s best cross-country time is 21:13. She might have broken the 21-minute mark her senior year, but the WBHS program changed. Butler’s coach her first two years accepted a new job before the start of Butler’s senior year, and that had an impact on Butler’s cross-country season.
“My senior year wasn’t my best year,” she said, “and that was the reason.”
Butler also decided not to run track her senior year.
“I kind of regretted it after a while,” she said. “But my senior year I had a lot to do. I was preparing applications for college and different scholarships.”
At UNC, Butler will not be a competitive runner, but she will continue to run when she gets the chance. She recently competed in the 5-kilometer Freedom Run in Southport and finished third in her age group.
“On some (hot) days, it’s not as easy,” she said about running in the summer, “so I cut back on the time.”
That was the case July 22, when a heat advisory was in effect. The 90-degree heat did not prevent the start of a 6 p.m. youth baseball game at the high school field. But to those who may have glanced beyond the outfield fence, they may have seen a brown ponytail bobbing in a rhythmic stride from right field to center field and to left field. A few minutes later, the same sight reappeared. That was Butler. In dedication and fitness, Butler gets A’s.
MICHAEL PAUL is the sports editor at the Beacon. Reach him at 754-6890 or at email@example.com.