Courtney Paine likes to push her body to the limit. So it was almost destiny that she would become a runner.

It was a good decision. Paine, a freshman at Erskine Academy, has become one of the best young distance runners in the state. She’s routinely finished in the top three at every meet this season, often coming away with the best time. That’s impressive for someone who took up the sport two years ago.

“I started in seventh grade,” Paine said. “Right before summer, I tried track. I had just quit gymnastics, I was in pretty good shape. My mom was a former runner, and she thought maybe I would like it. She had me try it, and I really liked it. It clicked, and ever since then, I’ve been hooked.”

Running – and athletics in general – are definitely in the family genes. Her mother — the former Wendy Hosea — was a three-time state champion for Messalonskee in the late 1980s. Paine hopes to match her mother’s achievements, even surpass them, if possible.

“She was a great runner,” Paine said. “There’s always a hope to be just like the greats and she was one of the greats.”

Paine also shares her home with another accomplished Erskine athlete – Connor Paine – who has qualified for the individual state championships in 2016 and this season.

“We just support each other, always hope for the best for one another,” Paine said.

There’s been plenty to root for. Paine has finished first at multiple meets, including a Sept. 1 meet in Winslow (with a time of 21:57.00) and at a home meet in South China on Sept. 27 (20:22.70).

“I knew the competition would be more intense than middle school, I was excited for that,” Paine said. “I was ready for something a little more. Middle school was fun, but obviously it was only two miles. I was ready for the three (miles) and the opportunity to compete with these great athletes.”

Paine’s success has been a nice surprise to Erskine girls head coach Roxanne Malley.

“Our first practice, she came on and started running with the boys, because we run our practices together, and she was running with the top boys,” Malley said. “I was going, ‘Oh my gosh, what is this?'”

She feels one of her best meets was at Medomak Valley on Sept. 15, a race where Paine finished third.

“It was a pretty good race,” Paine said. “There were some Camden (Hills) girls there, and they really pushed me. In that race, I felt good. I felt strong.”

She finished the course with an impressive time of 19:50.25.

Paine is also enjoying a friendly rivalry with Winslow’s Olivia Tiner, herself an outstanding freshman. Tiner and Paine have flip-flopped first and second place finishes during the season, setting up an exciting competition over the next three years.

“We had a meet at MCI, and after that (race), we talked for a while,” Paine said. “She’s a very nice girl. She’s obviously a great competitor. It’s an honor to run against her.”

Paine loves pushing herself through the year. She runs six days a week, taking Sundays off. She takes the occasional week off between sports seasons, but needless to say, Paine enjoys the grind.

“It’s just the love of the sport,” Paine said. “Just each day waking up and knowing I have a challenge put ahead of me. Running is kind of a way of determining the best you can be.”

Paine’s need to push herself may have bit her a bit recently. She strained a hip flexor during a recent practice. She’s currently working with a trainer in the hopes of being able to compete at the Kennebec Valley Athletic Conference championships on Saturday at Cony High School in Augusta.

“The goal is to have me ready for KVACs, but we don’t know if that’s going to happen,” Paine said.

Whether she’s able to run or not, it won’t diminish the season Paine has had. Or the potential of what she can do over the next three years.

“She’s just so focused, it’s crazy, as a freshman,” Malley said. “I told her, ‘Courtney, you’re going to make me famous.'”

“I worked hard and I did my best (this season),” Paine said. “I think, if anything, it’s shown that hard work will get you what you want, eventually. Sometimes you have to wait, but it’s worth the wait.”

She likely won’t be waiting long.

Dave Dyer — 621-5640

ddyer@centralmaine.com

Twitter: @Dave_Dyer