For Wheeler senior, high school was much like running a marathon

Wheeler High School senior Maddy Jones Friday, June 5, 2015. (Sean D. Elliot/The Day)
Wheeler High School senior Maddy Jones Friday, June 5, 2015. (Sean D. Elliot/The Day)

North Stonington — Maddy Jones vividly remembers the day she ran 20 miles after school.

"I was so prepared the whole day — that's all I could think about," Jones said of the September day last year.

The Wheeler High School senior, currently class president and lacrosse co-captain, was playing soccer at the time and about 14 weeks into training for last year's Hartford Marathon. Jones, who'd never run a marathon prior to last October, chose the challenge as her senior project, learning nutrition best practices and self-discipline along the way and hoping to inspire her peers to get active, too.

From mid-summer, she'd spend many days after school running a 3.4-mile loop as many times as needed: right out of the house, one gradual hill, one short, steep hill, right on a dirt track, repeat.

But despite passing her house after each loop, Jones rarely wanted to stop.

"I just tried to stay motivated and keep going," she said. "I'm the type of person that wants to try to finish everything to its fullest."

That motivation is something high school math teacher and lacrosse coach Allison Reyes said Jones carries with her during and after school.

"No matter what's going on with her, she just works through it and is uplifting at all times, which makes everyone around her better," Reyes said. "She's a quiet leader."

She's a busy one, too. The hardest part of Jones' marathon training came while she was working to maintain all As and Bs in school, attending almost all soccer practices, running up to seven miles per game as a midfielder and waitressing at Bellissimo Grande Hotel.

"It was stressful, but at the same time, it made me feel confident," Jones said. "I went to bed feeling better, knowing I had all these things I had to accomplish that day and I did it."

Jones, who became interested in exercise and healthy living toward the end of middle school, spent the first three years of high school involved with Positive Health in Teens and the Adolescent Learning and Leadership Institute. Both focused on spreading awareness about the harmful effects of drugs and alcohol, but Positive Health in Teens also incorporated the community.

"It's important to reach out to (community members) because they're the ones that make up where you are and who you are," she said.

She stressed the importance of seeking help throughout any challenge. She turned to Larry Chappell — the pastor at North Stonington Bible Church and former North Stonington Elementary School gym teacher who's run several marathons — for training advice. And she visited Reyes whenever she could, determined to keep up her grades in math, the subject with which she struggles the most.

Now, looking back, Jones said she could see how making it through high school is, in a way, like training for and running a marathon.

There was the initial struggle of adjusting, especially to high school-level math. There were the spats and feuds among friends somewhere in the middle, complicating the day-to-day grind that is high school. There was "mile 20," where Jones was bored and thought it never would end. And then, the finish line neared, the friends came back together, the grades were to her satisfaction, the cheers acted as fuel and suddenly, it was over.

"Senior year, you build up all this energy," Jones said. "Then, all of a sudden, the last two months can just fly by."

In just a short time, she'll be finished with her senior project presentation. She'll have given her class president speech at graduation, and will be on her way to Southern Connecticut State University to study exercise science with a minor in English.

"I've always wanted to do something where I could help people," Jones said.

One day, she hopes she'll start and finish the Boston Marathon, too.

Jones, who finished the Hartford Marathon in four hours and 25 minutes, knows that won't be easy: she'll need a qualifying time of three hours and 35 minutes for the Boston Marathon.

She's up for the challenge.

Just two days after her Oct. 11 marathon in Hartford last year, she headed to a Columbus Day soccer game, where her teammates, friends and coaches congratulated her and encouraged her to play.

"My coaches wanted me to start playing and I didn't know how I felt about that," Jones said, explaining that she felt the soreness "10 times more" the second day after the marathon than the first. "I said, 'OK, I can go in for a few minutes.'"

She played all 80 minutes.

l.boyle@theday.com

Twitter: @LindsayABoyle

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