Despite an impressive runner-up finish as a freshman, there was something wrong with Mackenzie Marler.
She didn’t know it at the time, but the fatigue she felt after practice and races was more than the typical amount felt by her peers. Still, she finished third at state as a sophomore.
Going into her junior year, the Cheyenne East leader finally saw a doctor and discovered it was Type 1 diabetes. With her illness pinpointed, Marler was able to put together another special season, but cap it with the elusive state championship.
“That kind of gave me the extra oomph of doing good because I had a lot of people doubting me,” Marler said. “It was kind of like proving to everyone that I could run faster with it.”
As a promising freshman she finished in 18 minutes, 36.33 seconds, second only to Cheyenne Central standout sophomore Aubrey Frentheway by just over 5 seconds. For Marler, the course blurred toward the finish line, but she stuck with it.
Last year she dealt with the same fatigue as she looked down the course to see Jackson’s Anna Gibson break the state record. Marler finished third with a time of 18:8.14, 6 seconds behind Frentheway and 33 seconds behind Gibson.
She was still oblivious to her condition when she won the 1,600 meters at the indoor track meet in the winter. It was her first year competing in indoor track. Marler was also a member of the Cheyenne East soccer team, which went 1-2 at the state tournament.
That’s when she discovered what was wrong. Looking back, the signs were there, she just had no idea.
“My freshman and sophomore year I had symptoms of it and we didn’t realize it was that,” Marler said. “Then this year I just wanted to prove to people that I could do it with it and I actually got faster from what was going on with my body.”
She entered her junior season with a new motivation, which powered her to an almost constant stream of success.
Marler was second to Frentheway yet again in the season-opening race in Greenwood Village, Colorado, but she won every race after that. For the second straight season she won the Class 4A East Regional ahead of her racing rival from Central.
“The last two years I would do really well in the season and then not come and do so well at the state meet,” she said. “So I wanted to make sure I just finished it at state.”
This year, however, she finished the regional race in 18:0.68, a full 24 seconds faster than she ran it last year. That gave her the confidence she needed to conquer the Veterans Affairs Hospital course in Sheridan.
She trailed Frentheway going into the final mile. With the wind pushing at her face, she kicked into the final uphill and rode its momentum downhill to where the wind helped her along. With the finish line in sight, she caught up to Frentheway and the two stayed neck-and-neck.
It was in the final 800 meters when Marler thought of her love for the sport. She thought of how far she has come and the long hours spent running despite the doctor visits. She was almost there. Just a little further.
“I just reminded myself to keep pushing and thought if I could just hold on a little bit longer I’ll only have a minute left of running,” she said. “I can do it.”
Marler finished with a time of 17:55.38, a personal record. Her emotional parents eagerly waited for her to come through the final chute.
She had finally won her state championship after conquering her biggest adversity to date.
Now she’ll focus on the indoor season this winter, as well as soccer in the spring. But for now, she’s enjoying gold.
“I had a really good season so far and tried to finish it on a good note,” Marler said. “And it continued so I’m really excited.”