A nagging health problem persisted once again for McKenzie Paul. The injury arose for the second time in nearly six months.
Paul encountered the pain from a tendon in her right foot last fall while competing for the Burbank High girls' cross-country team. It resurfaced just before the start of the track and field season, leaving Paul — who was born with flat feet — to ponder her options.
"The injury to my tendon just kept bothering me and I figured what's the point in running? " said Paul, a senior. "I looked at all of the different things and decided to take two to three weeks off before the start of track and field.
"I came in wanting to have a good season and set some records. I struggled at the beginning of the season, and then I started getting healthy toward the middle of the season."
Because of her injury, Paul didn't win many races during Burbank's first several dual meets.
With the pain having subsided, Paul began to pick things up and run the type of races she expected. By the time the Pacific League finals had concluded, Paul won two league titles and advanced to the CIF Southern Section Division I finals at Cerritos College in Norwalk.
It's because of those accomplishments that Paul has been voted the 2011 All-Area Girls' Track and Field Athlete of the Year by the writers and editors of the Glendale News-Press, Burbank Leader and La Cañada Valley Sun.
Paul won crowns in the 800- and 1,600-meter races at the league finals at Arcadia High on May 6. The championship in the 800 was her third straight. She also advanced to the CIF finals in the 800.
She finished first in the 800 in a time of 2 minutes 15.30 seconds to secure her third straight league championship in the event. She began her day with a win the 1,600 (5:05.54).
"I saw my times starting to drop [going into the league finals]," said the Sacramento State-bound Paul, the reigning All-Area Girls' Cross-Country Athlete of the Year. "I went out there and gave it my all.
"I didn't want to psyche myself out, so I had to believe in myself."
After basking in the spotlight of dominating her races in league, Paul headed to Trabuco Hills High to participate in the Division I prelims. Paul fared rather well In the 800, as she ran 2:14.30 for third in her heat and eighth overall to move on to the Division finals. In the 1,600, she clocked 5:05.51 for third in her heat and 11th overall and was the second alternate.
Paul, Burbank's lone athlete to qualify for the finals, capped her season by placing eighth in the 800 in 2:15.92.
Winning a third-straight league championship in the 800 proved to be the highlight of Paul's season.
"Coming off running the 1,600 in league, I wasn't sure if I could win the 800 again," Paul recalled. "It's my senior year, so I wanted to go out there and prove I could do it again and good things turned out.
"In winning the 1,600, I was kind of nervous going into the race. The last time I ran a full season in the 1,600 was my freshman year.
"At the [Division I finals], it was the first time that I got there. In the first lap, I fell back and most of the pack pulled away from me. Had I run my race, then I think I could have done better."
More times than not, Paul met or exceeded her high expectations on the track. She became one of the Bulldogs' top runners over the last decade and provided a balance of leadership needed for Burbank to succeed.
"Her expectations are always going to be very high," Burbank Coach Darin Wolf said. "Any good athlete will set and hope to achieve their goals.
"For her, it's a combination of putting in the hard work and using her talent to take her a great runner. You need to be able to put in the work and she stuck with it."
With Paul having graduated, the Bulldogs will look to find a runner who might have the same traits as Paul.
Junior CJ Chua, who participates in the 800 and 1,600, said the athletes expected back next season will have learned from Paul.
"She's an inspirational runner to watch," Chua said. "Just to see her give it her all and work hard can help you learn some things. I was happy to see her win the 800 again. That took a lot of dedication."
Paul reflected on her senior track and field season, coming away satisfied with what she got accomplished.
"I'm glad I could win two league titles, but I didn't set any records," Paul said. "You win some and you lose some. I'm happy with what I could get done."