Helena High sophomore and two-time state track and field champion (400 and 800 meters) Odessa Zentz was published by online publication MileSplit USA as part of its "Dear Running" campaign. In her letter, Zentz describes her passion and appreciation for running.
Every race has been perfectly imperfect and I learn something from every single one of them, no matter where I finish.
"My dad encouraged my whole team to do it because everyone is having a hard time with the season being stopped completely," Zentz said in a FaceTime interview Wednesday evening, "and writing that was super therapeutic for me and it got me in the feels with everything that I appreciate about this sport."
Zentz took the Class AA 400-meter dash and 800-meter run crowns last spring as a freshman in Kalispell, winning with times of 57.75 seconds and 2 minutes, 14.25 seconds, respectively. The latter was a personal-best in the two-lap race, while her 400-meter PR is 57.29 seconds.
This fall, Zentz also earned all-state honors for the Helena High cross country team, placing 13th with a time of 19:13.78. Teammate Kylie Hartnett won the Class AA girls race in 17:49.68.
Both would be on the track with teammates and competitors this spring if not for the novel coronavirus and its restrictions and shutdown of sporting events across the nation.
"I miss it so much right now. I would have raced this last Saturday in Great Falls, but obviously didn’t get to do that," she said. "I would say racing, the competition and the thrill of being able to race is what I miss the most."
"I was going to leave for Arcadia next week, which is really sad because that meet got canceled, for good reason," she continued. "But last Saturday I was really sad. I braided my hair that day because usually I do on race days, so I just did my workout in braids like I would have for racing."
In her letter, which can be read by clicking here, Zentz wrote she will "never again take for granted all the sweaty hugs after a hot day of practice ... never again taking for granted the year-round preparation to race in a state meet ... never again taking for granted that amazing feeling of being the first person to throw their aching body across a finish line."
"I said that because I appreciate every race that I’ve done. No matter what place I got I learned something every single time, even if I won it," she told MTN Sports. "For state races, I learned something about being under pressure and performing under pressure is really hard, so it kind of taught me that I can race under any circumstance."
Like thousands of athletes across the country, Zentz came to a sudden realization in the form of the old quote, "You don't know what you've got until it's gone."
While her sophomore track and field season is still up in the air -- the Montana High School Association executive board will revisit the suspension of all spring sports on Monday, April 13 -- Zentz has continued to train as if she will compete.
"It kind of depends on what the weather is like," she admitted, adding her dad, who coaches with the distance team at Helena High, sends the Bengal runners workouts on a daily basis.
Zentz closed her letter to running by thanking it -- thanking the sport for shaping her into the person she is, for making her understand and appreciate the process it takes to be a champion and for "all the precious memories you've already given me at age 16, from meeting my best friends to crossing the finish line to winning two state titles. I love you for bringing out the best version of myself," she wrote.
"I think that it will just explain how special this sport is. Even though it’s really hard, I think it teaches you a lot of things about your life, how you deal with things and keeping your body healthy," Zentz said. "It’s hard with all this going on because I feel like athletes’ first outlet would be running and racing, but that’s taken away, so I feel like it’s important to stay confident and train on your own and doing the best you can."
Running, you are my life, and I can't express this enough. Thank you for making me who I am ... I love you for bringing out the best version of myself.