Cecily Lemmon, right, wears a wrist band to help her breathe. (Photo by Mark Philbrick/BYU Photo)
As Cecily Lemmon comes around the final turn, quickens her pace trying to maintain the lead, the crowd is cheering and all eyes are alert.
Close behind the now 5-6 BYU sophomore from Vacaville, Calif., the second place runner sees the adjustment and responds by speeding up. Fighting for first place, the two girls run the last stretch neck-and-neck. With a few meters left, Lemmon glances down at her blue BYU wrist band, smiles to herself, takes a deep breath and in one final push barely wins the race.
As the top finisher last year for BYU in a couple of races, Lemmon seems to have mastered the art of running and maintaining her composure under pressure. It would be hard to imagine any obstacle challenging her performance or standing in her way. However, something most people don’t know about Lemmon is that she has her own interpretation of what it means to have her breath taken away.
“I have this weird issue with hyperventilating in races,” said Lemmon. “You wouldn’t think breathing would be hard, or something you would have to think about. But sometimes it makes me finish terribly.”
Not really being able to pin-point when it’s going to happen, Lemmon best describes it as a feeling of panic that happens unpredictably. When it sets in she forgets about maintaining her breathing and loses focus, bringing down her performance, composure and running ability.
Recognizing the need to overcome this, BYU women’s cross country coach Patrick Shane took it upon himself to help Lemmon. At first she did not quite understand the prescription Shane gave her; however, putting doubts aside, Lemmon gave it a try and was surprised at the result.
“He called me into his office and gave me a wrist band to wear,” said Lemmon. “He said, ‘just wear this and it’ll help you remember to breathe.’ I didn’t really understand how it could, or what he was talking about at the time, but the funny thing is it totally worked.”
As Lemmon ran her next race she periodically would look down, see the wrist band and it would remind her to focus on her breathing and not panic. The results were immediate. Her times improved as well as her confidence.
“Cecily is one of those Cinderella stories last year as a walkon,” said Shane. “She worked her way up and ran particularly well in our last three championship races. She is a great example of someone who worked hard and believed in themselves.”
This is something that seems to be a standard in Lemmon’s life-excelling individually in whatever she does and maintaining a positive attitude along the way. Others have commented that an attribute of Lemmon is that she works to improve, but then turns around and looks for ways that she can help lift others.
One teammate in particular expresses an appreciation for Lemmon’s example and optimism-her older sister Jessica, who now joins Cecily as a member of BYU’s team this season.
Recognizing that most siblings do not have the chance to compete together at a college level, Jessica thinks of each race she has with her sister as a blessing and just plain enjoyable.
“Running for BYU with Cecily is so much fun that it should probably be illegal,” said Jessica. “It really is something that we have dreamed about for years.”
According to Jessica, most people think her sister is older because she’s taller, faster and has been on the team longer, but in reality Jessica is four years older. Therefore, they have never really been able to run together on a team.
“Cecily inspires me to work harder and to believe in myself,” said Jessica. “The morning of a race I can usually count on finding a sweet note from [her] tucked somewhere in my bag, giving me advice and reminding me to trust in my training and do my best. She is the best sister and my best friend.”
Working together as a team, is something that is very important to Lemmon. She constantly keeps her teammates as a focus to her concentration in a race.
“When I run, I think a lot about my team and where they are and where I need to be,” said Lemmon. It helps her maintain her race plan, making it easier to remain focused on her goals for the day and overall.
Goals are very important to Lemmon, giving her a set direction and something to aspire to each day. According to her, it helps make each day a little easier having something to work toward.
When asked about what some of her goals are while attending BYU, Lemmon said, “I want to graduate in print journalism. And I’d love to be an All-American. I don’t know if that will happen for sure, but it is definitely something I would love to do.”
So how does one get to the top finisher spot and actually accomplish these set goals? Well, the first and most important step is to keep going, despite setbacks.
When asked about her current training to prepare for the upcoming season, Lemmon talked about the importance of continuing to train despite a stress fracture she has. This has hindered her ability to run and therefore she has had to train through cross training-biking, elliptical, etc.
“Usually training includes running miles, lots and lots of miles,” said Lemmon. “There’s a lot of speed work, hills, and intervals. But right now I can’t do that so it’s mostly cross training to keep up. I’m just doing all I can.”
Although it has not been what she is used to or would particularly like to be doing, Lemmon understands the importance of keeping up so she is able to make a smooth transition back into running. Keeping her body conditioned will only help the process so she pushes herself to keep up, despite what may feel like a little setback.
Being a strong and determined athlete is something Lemmon works to constantly become, but in between the training, hard work and competition she finds time to enjoy some of the more simple things of life.
When asked if she plays any musical instruments, Lemmon said, “I pretend I can play a couple of different instruments. I just love music, pretty much everything but country. I’m not really a huge fan of that.”
Everything ranges from old musicals down to fun dance music. “I’m an awful dancer,” said Lemmon, “but I just like to have fun.”
According to her family, food is also something that’s important to Lemmon.
“When I’m hungry, I have a slight tendency to not be so nice,” said Lemmon. “It’s a standing joke in my family that if I’m ever getting a little edgy, it’s time to feed me.”
Cookies and cream ice cream is a good way to restore her back to her regular happy condition. She’ll try other flavors, but according to Lemmon, why pick something you might not like as much, when you could have something that makes you happy every time you take a bite?
Happiness is a standard in Lemmon’s life and something that seems to just come naturally to her. Being someone who has overcome a past of broken wrists, appendix being removed and recent injuries, Lemmon still describes herself as lucky to have not had many set backs.
Rather than focus on any reason she may have to slow down and take it easy, Lemmon chooses to focus on what it is she sees herself needing to improve upon and then taking it that much further and excelling.
“That is the way Cecily runs,” said her sister Jessica. “Every time she steps on the line she puts her whole heart into the race and gives it everything she’s got.”
Cecily finished second at last year’s Big Wave Invitational in Hawai`i, a 4K race in 14:39 when BYU runners finished second, third, fourth, fifth and sixth en route to a first place finish. She was also the Cougars’ top finisher at the NCAA Championships at Terre Haute, Ind.
Next weekend she may snap her wristband again as the Cougars host the Autumn Classic, the only home meet of the season, on Saturday morning at the Cross Country Campus Course, adjacent to the Helaman Halls dormitories on campus.