Woodland High School senior Lucy George is undefeated in track and field this season.
Whether in the 100-meter hurdles, shot put, javelin, high jump or long jump, she’s won every event she’s entered leading up to Thursday’s 2A Southwest District Championships.
When anyone sees Lucy George, they see a star athlete with a bright future at an NCAA Division I school.
When Lucy George looks in the mirror, she doesn’t view herself the same.
George doesn’t like the way her body looks, she admits. Every day, she reminds herself to eat, not wanting to spiral back to the depths of what she called an eating disorder over the past year, she says.
With her sophomore season mostly erased due to injury, her junior season canceled due to COVID-19 and her senior season shortened, George struggled to find an identity she was comfortable with beyond her times or marks on the track.
“Honestly, it was quite a while of pretty dark days,” George said.
The National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders reports that 9 percent of Americans will experience an eating disorder at some point in their life. According to data on the ANAD website, which is pulled from several studies over the past two decades, eating disorders and struggles with body image disproportionately affect young females.
“I try to tell her all the time that she’s been gifted this body and it is amazing,” Woodland track coach Melanie Holmes said. “To me, it’s a masterpiece.”
When George was a sophomore at Camas High School, she had a presentation for one of her classes that asked her to describe herself. All of the PowerPoint slides were about her as an athlete.
She was fresh off a breakout freshman track and field season, in which she qualified for the 4A State Championships in both the 100-meter and 300-meter hurdles. Before she could follow it up as a sophomore, she suffered a stress fracture in her shin. It was close to being split off entirely, she said.
George missed almost all of her sophomore season, returning in the final weeks of the season for throwing events but unable to participate in her favored hurdles events. She still qualified for state in the javelin and long jump.
“My mom would pick me up from school, and I would see people out there running, and I would break down and cry,” George said. “It was hard for me to go to school. I was crying myself to sleep at night.”
Track and field was her life at the time. She defined herself as an athlete, and when it was stripped away, she was lost.
“I didn’t think I had anything else,” George said.
That summer, she transferred to Woodland, renewed her relationship with her faith — George is a Protestant Christian — and started to find new ways to feel good about herself.
Woodland was low pressure — she didn’t have to fit in with the “popular kids,” she said — and she could take it easy as she tried to overcome the shin injury that stole her sophomore season.
Just when George thought she could finally return to the track, COVID-19 canceled the spring season. Much like her sophomore year, her junior season was gone.
“It was heartbreaking,” she said.
George had big aspirations, though. She wanted to compete in college, and she dedicated herself to training in the offseason. She was garnering interest from top-tier college programs.
Last summer, she was training with a coach — not related to the high school — when she heard the words that broke her spirit.
In front of several other people, this coach told George she needed to lose 10 pounds, George recalled.
“It was devastating,” she said. “I couldn’t quite get over that.”
George stopped eating. She showed up at practices without energy, having consumed little to no calories throughout the day. Every workout was a struggle. With few meets to show progress, she didn’t have a way to prove to her coach or herself that she was in a good place. It was a nasty spiral.
“If you say that offhand without any type of guidance and support, you’re just opening the door for all sorts of unhealthy behavior,” Holmes said. “That is such a horrific thing on so many levels.”
George says she’s always struggled with her confidence. She’s hard on herself to a fault, she says, picking out exact moments in each race or event when she did something incorrect. Despite winning all her events this year, she is disappointed when she doesn’t set a new personal-best mark. She’s set personal bests in five events this year: 100 hurdles (15.11 seconds), shot put (37 feet, 10.5 inches), javelin (135-5), high jump (5-6) and long jump (17-5.25).
Holmes pleads with her to look at the positives after events when George criticizes every part of the performance.
“Being detail-oriented and nitpicky can make you a champion,” Holmes said. “But going too far is like a knife’s edge, where it becomes toxic. She has a tendency to go to that toxic side.”
Completing the race
If George’s battles with an eating disorder and her body image were the 100-meter hurdles, in which there are 10 obstacles to clear, George is through six of them. She went to a nutritionist in November and has started eating healthier. Her relationship with food is in “a better place,” she said.
“I’m finally starting to get through it,” George said. “I haven’t come out the other side yet, though.”
George will finish her high school track career by competing in four events at Thursday’s district meet in Washougal. She is among the favorites to win the 100 hurdles, javelin, high jump and long jump. With the WIAA canceling the state championships because of COVID-19, George won’t get to test her mettle against the best in the state one last time.
“Absolutely, it’s a bummer,” Holmes said. “We’ll always wonder what she could have done with a normal junior and senior season.”
George committed to Grand Canyon University in Phoenix earlier this year. She hopes to compete in the heptathlon. Perhaps a professional career in the sport will follow.
She grew up watching the Gatorade commercials that highlighted how few athletes make it professionally.
When she looks toward the future, as hard as George can be on her herself, optimism shines through.
“Why not me?” George asked, the enthusiasm resonating in her voice.