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Lebanon High Sprinter a Rookie in Name Only

  • Corinne Kennedy, left, who will be a Lebanon sophomore in the fall, runs warm-up drills with grade school children during Lebanon Track Camp at Lebanon High School in Lebanon, N.H., on June 24, 2014. (Valley News - Will Parson)

    Corinne Kennedy, left, who will be a Lebanon sophomore in the fall, runs warm-up drills with grade school children during Lebanon Track Camp at Lebanon High School in Lebanon, N.H., on June 24, 2014. (Valley News - Will Parson) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Corinne Kennedy, center, who will be a sophomore at Lebanon this fall, helps 4th-8th graders learn how to use starting blocks during Lebanon Track Camp at Lebanon High School in Lebanon, N.H., on June 24, 2014. Current and former Lebanon high schoolers help run the week-long camp, led by Lebanon coach Kevin Lozeau. (Valley News - Will Parson)

    Corinne Kennedy, center, who will be a sophomore at Lebanon this fall, helps 4th-8th graders learn how to use starting blocks during Lebanon Track Camp at Lebanon High School in Lebanon, N.H., on June 24, 2014. Current and former Lebanon high schoolers help run the week-long camp, led by Lebanon coach Kevin Lozeau. (Valley News - Will Parson) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Corinne Kennedy, left, who will be a Lebanon sophomore in the fall, runs warm-up drills with grade school children during Lebanon Track Camp at Lebanon High School in Lebanon, N.H., on June 24, 2014. (Valley News - Will Parson)
  • Corinne Kennedy, center, who will be a sophomore at Lebanon this fall, helps 4th-8th graders learn how to use starting blocks during Lebanon Track Camp at Lebanon High School in Lebanon, N.H., on June 24, 2014. Current and former Lebanon high schoolers help run the week-long camp, led by Lebanon coach Kevin Lozeau. (Valley News - Will Parson)

Lebanon — Having shown signs of brilliance since the third grade, sprinter Corinne Kennedy had long been on the radars of Lebanon High track and field coaches. Now that she’s grown to compete for the Raiders, her performances have been off the charts.

Kennedy had nothing short of a spectacular freshman season, setting a number of meet and state records while placing in the top three in 12 postseason events, including five outright wins and a New England championship in the 300-meter hurdles this month at Bridgewater State University. Last weekend, Kennedy wrapped up her stellar rookie campaign by winning the New Hampshire Heptathlon at Nashua South High.

After adding the long jump to her multi-faceted sprinting repertoire, Kennedy accumulated 64 points at state championship meets (indoor and outdoor combined) while setting a meet record at the NHIAA Division II championships (44.56) and a state mark in the same event a week later at the Meet of Champions (43.54).

The humble-but-confident granddaughter of late marathon runner Robert Vanier and daughter of former Dartmouth College distance runners Christin Vanier and Norman Kennedy has officially begun writing her own chapter in the family running legacy.

Asked if she expected to perform as well as she did this year, Corinne Kennedy simply smiled and shook her head, “No.”

Her coaches, however, had more than a hunch.

Beginning at age 8, Kennedy attended the summer youth track program in Lebanon run by Andrew Gamble, the longtime Raiders coach who retired last year. She was immediately promising and only got better during middle school, when she attended the Lebanon Department of Parks and Recreation’s annual summer camps.

“She’s probably the most naturally talented kid I’ve ever seen,” said Raiders coach Kevin Lozeau, one of the mentors on hand at the city’s junior high track camps; the latest edition began Tuesday at Lebanon High School. “She’s naturally very fast and she’s very strong. That was obvious right off the bat.”

Kennedy has excelled while fully embracing the team aspect of the sport. In fact, that’s what keeps her most eager to stay involved.

“I just love the fact that it’s such a team sport, even though you’re cheering on individuals sometimes,” Kennedy said before helping to train youngsters at Lebanon’s youth track camp on Tuesday. “The team is like a family. You all have to do your part for the team to do well.”

Kennedy credited much of her development to Lebanon Recreation Director Paul Coats, who led her junior high summer camp sessions. Coats, h imself an avid runner, made an effort to keep the camps fun and encourage the athletes, he said.

“We try to make sure the kids have a good time and enjoy themselves while emphasizing the team aspect,” Coats said. “It’s easy to think of track as an individual sport, but in reality it’s a team sport as much as anything. Corinne really grabbed hold of that concept and ran with it.”

While Kennedy was clearly gifted, Coats was wary not to cast unreasonable performance expectations on the protégé.

“Our approach with middle school track is not to overtrain,” Coats said. “We do some hard workouts and some light workouts, but we made a point to not pressure a kid like Corinne. It was never a case of, ‘You’ve got to get this time or that time’ or ‘You’ve got to win this race.’ That kind of language isn’t introduced because it’s not what the middle school experience should be like.”

A natural sprinter, Kennedy gravitated toward hurdles events because of, well, the extra hurdles involved.

“It makes it a lot more interesting than just running straight ahead,” she said.

Unlike her parents and grandfather, she doesn’t fancy herself a distance runner, but has always been open to trying new events.

“We got her doing the 400, which is probably the most mentally grueling event there is,” Coats said. “It’s a sprint, but there are very few human beings that can comfortably sprint that far. The last 200 meters, your whole body is telling you to quit and start walking and you’ve got to push through the fatigue.”

Kennedy took on the long jump with the Raiders, winning the indoor state title last winter with a plunge of 16 feet, 5.75 inches and following that up with a third-place showing at outdoor states (16-06.75).

“That’s probably the most challenging event for me,” she said. “I don’t always remember the whole process of the form and technique. It’s like a big puzzle and sometimes it’s tough to put all the pieces together, but it’s interesting.”

While admitting to becoming nervous prior to meets, Kennedy called them “the good kind of nerves” and has been able to channel her energy into performance. Having immediately become a leader on the Raiders, Kennedy has approached the role with quiet confidence. While her results garner plenty of warranted attention, it’s not something she seeks.

“At the Heptathlon, she was getting a lot of compliments throughout the weekend and it kind of embarrassed her,” Lozeau said. “She doesn’t really like the lime light, but she’s a very confident kid. Going into the winter season, we didn’t want her to think that the pressure was riding on her to perform at states. But I think the way she did perform was a big confidence boost and she’s comfortable in that (leadership) role.”

Aside from helping at this week’s junior high track camp at Lebanon High, Kennedy plans to take a much-deserved break from running. She’ll train later this summer with fellow Raider Will Merchant, one of her best friends, and hopes to heal up legs that have grown sore.

When she has time, Kennedy may even engage in one of her favorite hobbies, drawing.

“I like to draw cats and dogs, usually with pens or colored pencils,” she said.

Thanks in large part to Kennedy, the picture for the Lebanon girls track team looks quite bright.

Jared Pendak can be reached at jpendak@vnews.com or 603-727-3306.