Sarah Been left Elizabethtown High School as a very decorated athlete.
She totaled five track and field state championships — three individual and two 4x800 relays.
It didn’t start that way.
Five-plus years ago she was a skinny little seventh-grader running with the big kids.
“That was everything to me,” Been said. “I don’t think I would have had as much motivation from the beginning if not for those people pushing me. In my seventh-grade year I was in the background. I wanted to make the varsity and I didn’t know what the varsity was. I latched onto them. They might have thought I was a little annoying at first. It was everything to see how successful they were and how much running meant to them and how much running meant to them every day.”
Hannah Godfrey, Claire Ratliff and Savannah Kingery were the three Been talked about that first year with the Lady Panthers.
“Claire and I trained together a lot,” she said. “Thanks to all those people and more. They encouraged me. They knew I was younger and wanted me to do good and wanted me to help the team. I definitely wouldn’t have gotten as great a start without them.”
Two of Been’s individual state championships came six weeks ago when the Xavier University signee captured the Class 2-A 1600 (5:10.36) and 3200 (11:22.71) and was the favorite to do so.
“After region happened, we had about a week-and-a-half waiting for state and the rankings came out and my coaches were talking to me, telling me that I’m the hunted and I didn’t really know about that,” Been said. “There were a lot of other competitors who were really good and you never know about a race at the state meet. People were constantly telling me that I was the one, but I never thought that. I thought it was cool, but I never thought going into the race that it was in the bag. I knew that if I just ran my race I would be fine. I never underestimated anybody.
“(John Hardin’s) Savannah Hossfeld ran a really great race.”
Both state championships runs were impressive, but in her four-lap victory, Been ran 2:39.56 in the first 800 and 2:30.80 in the final 800.
“That’s how I mentally ran my race,” she said. “I went out with the goal of hanging in there the first two laps or so. I wanted to get into the zone, zone out and then once I got those two laps in, I knew I had an 800 left to go and I knew then it was now or never. At state I’m always racing myself and it’s a constant mental battle of how much pain you can take and for how long. That’s a big deal. Especially at state, you kinda have to block out all the mental pain and all the physical pain and focus on the people around you and be very aware of the people around you.
“It’s smart to know your competitors and how they race and how you’re gonna react throughout the race. At state I have to be aware of the people around me and how I’m gonna adapt and how my body is gonna work and be affected by that.”
Been has been selected the Area Athlete of the Year by the area coaches and The News-Enterprise sports staff. She totaled 29 points with five first-place votes. John Hardin’s Alexis Witherspoon was second with 20 points and three first-place votes. Elizabethtown’s Amirr Evans was third with 14 points.
“It’s a real honor to know that all the coaches in this area think highly of me because there are a ton of other really deserving athletes,” said Been, who was the co-Athlete of the Year last season with John Hardin’s Zinaija Reed. “There are a lot of people in this area working very hard all year to accomplish their goals in region and especially at state.
“I’m just really honored.”
In addition to her five state titles, Been has finished second, fourth, fifth and sixth twice. Three of those to top eights — a second and two victories — came in the 4x800 relay.
“Starting in the seventh-grade, I wasn’t on the relay with Savannah, Claire, Hannah and Tianna (Smith) — I wasn’t fast enough to be on that team — but I looked at that and it looked so fun,” she said. “That was one thing I constantly wanted to work for. They were a great team back then and that started my love of the 4x8. I went to state that year and warmed up with them and cheered them on. Hannah Godfrey graduated that year and I had my opportunity. It was something to work for and I thought maybe I could go out and win with these girls.
“Running is so independent, but you always need people to train with. I was a soccer player also, so I was used to being a team player and the team aspect. I had a team to put myself out there for and a team to work for instead of just myself.”
Been’s first title came with Kingery, Amirr Evans and Isabella Galvez in winning the 4x800 in 2017.
“I just remember being so happy at the end of that race,” she said. “I’m not usually a super emotional person, but I was so emotional when I finished. When I finished that race it hit me that was one of my major goals. The more I got into running I wanted to be a state champion. That’s the highest you can get in high school. You do all the training throughout the year and it all comes down to the one race.
“During practice, everybody on the track team might have been done, but I had to do one more rep, one more 400.”
Been was the anchor.
“All the girls came up around me and were hugging me,” she said. “They trusted me. I didn’t care the order. I was going to be nervous no matter what. I told coach that I’ll do whatever you want me to do. He said, ‘Sarah, no matter what, we trust you to finish the race strong and leave your heart out there.’’
That year she also placed fifth in the 3200 (11:46.50) and sixth in the 1600 (5:21.99).
The same foursome ran a Class 2-A record 9:35.70 the next year to claim another 4x800 championship. Been won the 3200 in 11:21.75 and finished fourth in the 1600 in 5:22.60.
Been, who earned 12 region championships, finished second in the 4x800 as a freshman with Kingery, Galvez and Ratliff and placed sixth in the 3200 in 12:06.92.
“I just want to say thank you to all my teammates who helped me get here,” she said. “Winning this award, to me, is like them winning the award with me. As a team when you win something, you all worked to get there.
“Also, thanks to all my coaches who helped me. Coach (Jason) Hayes this last year, I could not have done anything close to what I did without him. I texted him any time I needed him, to ask any questions I had about training and I know I can do that for the rest of my life.
“I thank God for helping me through all these years of running. I prayed a lot about the college decisions. He eased my mind during races. I never prayed to win, but to do my best, to stay mentally strong and to be a good teammate and good leader to everyone around me.
“I appreciate making it through all these years and I’m blessed to be able to run at the next level.”