Liz Ryker was a high school athlete at Liberty High School. She participated in varsity track and field, varsity cross country, and junior varsity basketball. She graduated in 2012 and went on to run track at Central Washington University, where she studied math education. This is her second year teaching at Issaquah High School. This is her sports and life story, through photographs and her reflections.

“It was in that moment that I realized that sometimes dreams change for the best.”

All these photos have one thing in common: A baton. At Liberty High School, on a hill in a city southeast of Seattle, I ran on all three relay teams: 4 x 100 meter relay, 4 x 200 meter relay, 4 x 400 meter relay. After competing four years in high school and three more years at Central Washington University, I had the opportunity to work with a lot of different great athletes. And I learned that, at the end of the day, it’s not about pushing through for yourself, it’s about pushing through for others around you and for the future generation. Today, I am a math teacher and track coach at Issaquah High School. I try each day to be a positive role model to my students because they are the ones that will one day govern the country, make or break the economy, support the retirees, and in return impact the younger ones around them. Here is my running story:

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If you look closely, you’ll notice I have blue Kinesiology Tape on my shins splits to help increase circulation and to reduce inflammation and pressure on the shin. I got hurt doing hurdles during my sophomore year and the doctor told me I should only do relays and open sprints. I originally had hopes of making it individually in state for the 300 meters hurdles, since it was my best event and where I was ranked highest in King-Co standings, but those dreams had to change. I was devastated, but it led me to becoming a member of a third relay team, the 4 x 1. Our 4 x 1 team ended up making it to state finals, and it was in that moment that I realized that sometimes dreams change for the best.

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Being a third leg on the 4 x 2 relay meant that I had to depend on my teammates to get me in a good position in the race. At the same time, my teammates expected me to push through and make up more ground before the next exchange. On a relay team, we all had a part to play. And we all depended on each other to do what we said we should do when we were supposed to do it. That meant we were consistently showing up to practice, making sure we were academically eligible, and putting forth our best effort in practice. We relied on each other on and off the track and trusted one another to pull through with the weight they said they would carry.

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Being anchor intensified the pressure. I felt as if the whole outcome of the race was dependent on my performance. I used to get so angry and tense whenever someone passed me, or I couldn’t build up enough speed to catch the person in front of me. However, a runner slows down and loses energy when he or she tenses up. So I worked on extending my arms and relaxing my jaw every week. When I watched TV I would swing dumbbells by my side to perfect my form. Practicing does not make perfect. Practicing perfect makes perfect. By my senior year, perfect practicing paid off. I learned to turn my anger into motivation and improved my form and it helped me reach the finish line faster than ever before.

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All of what I accomplished in high school and college couldn’t have been done without the support of my teammates, family, and friends. Behind me, in the background of the photograph, is my mother. Without her and my father’s support, there would have been a lot more tears after losses or missed goals. They gave me the support I needed to keep my head up and in return I gave that same support to my teammates. Being a captain of the team during my senior year really put me in position to support and direct those that needed it to make our team stronger.

“A Look Back: A Photo Journey” series uses memories, reflections, and photographs to explore the journeys of high school girl athletes and the roles sports play in shaping their future lives. This series will feature adult women looking back on their past photographs and reflecting on their experiences. Photographs are taken and donated generously by Don Borin at Stop Action Photography. This is the first installation of the series, check back soon for more!