South Whidbey’s Elizabeth Donnelly qualifies for second national meet

Elizabeth Donnelly after finishing fifth-place in the 800-meter 15-16 age group at the USA Track and Field Junior Olympics regional meet in Portland

Before 8:50 p.m. on Sunday, Elizabeth Donnelly wasn’t going to the USA Track and Field Junior Olympics in Jacksonville.

Not because she hadn’t qualified — Donnelly finished fifth in the 800-meter race in the 15-16 age group at the regional meet in Portland — but because she had family obligations in Maine.

But by the 9 p.m. deadline to register for the meet, she was in. And now, the South Whidbey High School sophomore will compete for a national title once again, having qualified for the meet in 2014.

The Junior Olympics will be held July 27 – Aug. 2 at Hodges Stadium on the campus of the University of North Florida.

“I’m super excited now,” Donnelly said. “I didn’t think it was going to happen and now I’m like, ‘Yay, I’m going to Florida.’ ”

So, what changed, exactly?

“Tom is the one that caved,” said Elizabeth’s mother Rosie Donnelly, referring to her husband.

Tom had been busy playing in a golf tournament all weekend and couldn’t have a conversation on the matter until Sunday. Elizabeth’s brother Aidan’s 11/12 Little League All-Stars team had qualified for the state playoffs, which appeared to have made the situation even more bleak.

But, they decided on a plan: Elizabeth and Tom would fly out to Maine as originally planned and from there head to Jacksonville, while Rosie would stay behind with Aidan for his team’s state playoff run this weekend before heading to Maine.

After the meet, Elizabeth and Tom will head back to Maine to reunite with Rosie and Aidan.

With all that settled, Donnelly can focus on her competition.

“I think it will be some good competition, hopefully,” Donnelly said. “I don’t know if I’ll make the final, but I hope I would. It looks like there’s some girls in there that are pretty fast. I just want to make the final so I get a chance to compete against them and maybe run a good race. I’m looking forward to it.”

Her performance last year garnered mixed results. Donnelly didn’t make the final in her strongest event, the 800, but did advance to the 1,500-meter final. She also hesitated at the start of the 800-meter race, which put Donnelly behind early.

But with another year of competition under her belt, which included a second-place finish in the 800 at the 2014 Class 1A state track and field championships, Donnelly is eager to go out and compete on the national stage. She trains every other day with Jack Terhar, a family friend who also coached the Langley Middle School track and field team for years before recently retiring. Terhar has been helping train Donnelly this summer with speed workouts.

“The thing that probably stands out the most about her is her desire to race,” Terhar said. “She likes to race. She likes the gun to go off and race, which is not necessarily a common thing.”

That’s because most 15-year-olds aren’t like Donnelly, who essentially trains year-round. Her main motivation to compete in offseason meets is to face faster runners, who will in turn make her faster.

“I just like to think of it as a really big meet, where everyone is really into it and super serious,” Donnelly said. “They’re all the same type of person who is still training in the offseason and serious about track. Maybe that’s why I get along with everyone when we’re talking in the tent before the race. Because we’re all crazy enough to be doing this.”