When she runs, Kaylee Porter tries not to think. If everything goes well, muscle memory takes over and Porter just runs. When her mind does wander, though, Porter tries to focus her thoughts on how lucky she is to be racing. Porter’s signature race is the 800 meters, as much a mental challenge as physical. The pain of the second and final lap doesn’t creep in, it kicks down the door and gets in your face.

When that happens, Porter thinks of the people she knows who would give a king’s ransom to be in her shoes.

“I find motivation from friend who can’t run,” Porter, who recently completed her junior year at Erskine Academy, said. “I run for them.”

After she suffered a bruised liver playing soccer last fall, Porter herself couldn’t run. The three month recovery time forced Porter to miss the indoor track and field season, and she didn’t feel 100 percent until midway through the spring. When she was back, though, Porter was back.

Porter’s time of 2:16.55 in the 800 at the Class B state meet was the second-fastest 800 in the state on championship Saturday. It took a state record effort by Tia Tardy of Mount Desert Island (2:14.76) to keep Porter from winning her third consecutive state title.

For her strong effort coming back from serious injury, Kaylee Porter is the Kennebec Journal Girls Outdoor Track and Field Athlete of the Year.

“She has the combination of speed and toughness to get through the race,” Erskine track and field coach David Currier said of Porter’s 800 meter prowess. “Hopefully, she can be the favorite going into next year.”

Porter’s injury came in a soccer game against Spruce Mountain last fall. Porter and the Phoenix goalie raced to a loose ball.

“I went for it, the goalie went for it too, and she punched me in the liver,” Porter said.

In a game two days later, Porter was hit again. This time, the pain was so great, she went to the hospital. After six hours in the emergency room, Porter had her diagnosis. She had a lacerated and bruised liver, and she needed time to heal. Porter was cleared to run this spring, but she felt nowhere close to ready to compete.

“I hadn’t done anything, no activity for three months,” Porter said. “I had to rebuild to what I was.”

“I think it took a few races for her to convince herself she was back,” Currier said.

By the Kennebec Valley Athletic Conference championship meet on May 27, Porter was starting to feel like herself. She won the 800 with in 2:25.41, and knew she could run faster. At the state meet, Porter was excited to run against Tardy. The raced pushed her to excel, Porter said.

Porter’s success in the 800 is notable, in part because of her initial reluctance to try the race. When she joined Erskine’s track team as a freshman, Porter saw herself as an athlete who would compete in the 400 and the 300 hurdles. Currier had other plans.

“She was working on a treadmill. I just kept cranking the speed on her, and she kept going. She was doing 15 miles an hour. I said, ‘You know, you’re running a state 800 pace at the end of your workout,'” Currier said.

“I was nervous and a little mad,” Porter said about her first 800 race. “(Currier) put me in it and things clicked. It was awesome.”

Porter spent the last week of June at the Dick Fosbury Track Camp at Bowdoin College.

“It’s fun to hang out with people with the same drive,” she said.

Porter already has a goal in mind for next season. She’d like to run the 800 in 2:10. When reminded that would shave four seconds off a state record barely a few weeks old, Porter laughed.

“My goal is to beat Tia’s record,” she said.

Travis Lazarczyk — 861-9242

[email protected]

Twitter: @TLazarczykMTM

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