Female Athlete of the Year: Clare Veverka

  • Clare Veverka runs at a home cross-country meet at ConVal last fall. STAFF PHOTO BY BEN CONANT

  • ConVal's Clare Veverka, a sophomore who runs cross-country and outdoor and indoor track, is the Monadnock Ledger-Transcript's Female Athlete of the Year. Staff photo by Ben Conant—

  • ConVal's Clare Veverka, a sophomore who runs cross-country and outdoor and indoor track, is the Monadnock Ledger-Transcript's Female Athlete of the Year. Staff photo by Ben Conant

  • Veverka goes down at the end of the Division II cross-country meet in Derryfield last fall. Courtesy photo

Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Monday, July 03, 2017 11:31AM

Clare Veverka was sure she was going to die — it was just a matter of where. As ConVal’s top cross-country runner hit the chute and approached the finish line at the Meet Of Champions, she wobbled, stumbled, and fell, the well-worn Derryfield Park grass rising up to meet her.

“I was thinking, ‘I’ve got to finish this race because I don’t want to die right here on the course, I want to die off the course.’” Veverka said, months later.

She didn’t die on or off the course that day, as you may have guessed, but she pushed her young body as far as it could go. That afternoon, she only needed to push it 10 more feet, to stagger across the finish line.

She got back up, eyes rolled skyward (“I was probably thinking ‘Jesus, take me now,” she said) and willed herself to the chalk.

Not only did she finish the race, she finished 24th, just ahead of teammates Schuyler Michalak and Lucy Freeman. And with that finish, Veverka ensured her whole team could move on to the Meet of Champions — had she stayed down, their team score would not have been enough to advance.

“That was for my team, because when you’re on a team, you’ve got to put it all out there for the team, not for your own benefit,” Veverka said.

Over the line, she collapsed again, this time with her family and coaches by her side.

“It was painful to watch,” said her mother, Ann.

ConVal head coach Lance Flamino said he’d never had one of his athletes go down like that.

“Most people probably would have backed off way earlier ... but she’s able to push herself pretty hard,” Flamino said. “I always tell her, that probably wasn’t your favorite race, but it was one of my favorite races that you’ve ever run, just because of what you put into it.”

That wakeup call led her to the hospital, where testing revealed her ferritin levels were dangerously low — an iron deficiency. Most runners will have a ferritin level somewhere between 50 and 150; Veverka’s was an 8.

“It’s not common, but it’s apparent when you’re an endurance athlete, whereas your day-to-day life might not be affected,” Flamino said. “The iron helps create red blood cells, which help carry oxygen around, so when you’re doing something that requires every little bit of oxygen and you’re not getting enough of it, it makes it tough.”

Never one to give up, Veverka went out and raced with her team at the Meet of Champions, finishing in a season-best 19:37. She started taking 200mg of iron a day, pumping her levels up back to normal (“I was a beast,” she said).

Riding on that new regimen, healthier than ever, Veverka entered the winter track season rejuvenated.

“She had a really phenomenal indoor season,” Flamino said. “This winter was a good glimpse of what she’s capable of and what’s to come.”

Veverka finished first in every heat and race she competed in over the winter up until the Division II championship, where she finished second in the 3,000M to Souhegan senior Madeleine Hunt. Veverka was a mere two seconds back of first.

“I’ve been given this ability, why waste it?” Veverka said. “When I’m blessed with this talent, I’m going to work hard every day because some people aren’t blessed with this talent and ability to do what I do. It would be a waste of my talent if I didn’t work hard every day.”

The ConVal community got a bumper crop of hyper-competitive athletes when the Veverka clan — all 11 of them — pulled up stakes and moved to Hancock a few years ago. Back home in Schroon Lake, New York, a sleepy little hamlet outside Lake George, running wasn’t central to the community — think ‘Footloose,’ but with road races, instead of dancing (“They had square dancing in the summer but that’s about it,” Veverka joked). With no school cross-country or track teams, Veverka was a 12-year-old diehard, running halfmarathons around the town while the neighbors called home to report her progress as she’d pass their mailboxes.

“It was a small enough town that everyone knew [her],” Ann said.

Smack in the middle of the nine Veverka siblings, Clare couldn’t help but be competitive. Her mom was a triathlete, her father Peter a runner, and her brothers?

“When they come at you with a baseball bat, you’ve got to climb that tree fast, and you can’t give up,” Veverka said.

It wasn’t until she got to ConVal for her freshman year that she truly got coached for her running, and Flamino said she took to it — naturally, given her ingrained competitive drive.

“It’s a good trait and most good runners have it,” he said.

But it may have been that drive that led her to a disappointing spring track season, as she battled a nagging, mysterious foot injury that hampered her throughout.

“I did too much mileage too soon,” Veverka said. She exhibited signs of a stress fracture in her foot, though an X-ray revealed nothing. Slowed in the distance events, Veverka lent her speed to the 4x800M relay, where she was part of a four-girl team which broke the school record at the state meet.

“The adrenaline kicked in during races so I was to push through for two laps or so,” she said.

She’s taking a month off running now that school’s out, spending time climbing trees, making smoothies and hanging with Ezzie the cat. All the while, she’s anxiously awaiting her early-July return to running.

“When you love something so much, it’s really hard to give it up,” she said.

Next year, as a junior, she’ll have to learn to live without former teammates, instrumental to her development, like Lucy Freeman (“She’s just been a person that shows what it means to really work hard) and older brother Liam Veverka (“I feel like he’s been the main person that’s helped me through these seasons”). It will be Clare, now, who the younger runners will look up to, as she sets her sights on Laura LaPlante’s school distance running records — attainable for her, Flamino said.

“I think the two-mile and the mile, she has a shot at those,” he said. “I know it’s in her sights and she’s thinking about it.”

Aside from those records, Veverka hopes to get back to the prestigious New Balance Invitational, where she raced as a sophomore, and then get ready for a life of running after high school.

“I love running,” she said. “I know that everything is going somewhere, with what you love, so I know if I keep working hard, it’s going to go somewhere big.”