Cheyenne Buckingham began running cross country as a seventh-grader at Worthingway Middle School, and she developed into her team's No. 1 runner by the following season.
Unfortunately for Buckingham, she also developed anorexia nervosa as an eighth-grader.
Anorexia nervosa is an eating disorder that makes people lose more weight than is healthy for their age and height. In Buckingham's case, she dropped from 98 pounds to 80 pounds by eating little and by running an increasing amount of miles.
Buckingham, now a senior at Thomas Worthington High School, was diagnosed on the final day of school as an eighth-grader when she blacked out during gym class at the conclusion of running a mile.
"I was giving away my food at lunch to other kids and basically surviving off skim milk and granola bars," she said. "I thought that more people would like me the skinnier that I looked, and I had a fear of looking fat. I also thought that losing weight would help my running."
But it was Buckingham's love of running that helped her overcome her eating disorder, as her doctor said she had to gain a minimum of 15 pounds before he would medically clear her to join the Thomas girls cross country team as a freshman.
"Running is my passion and I knew that I had to get my weight up to a healthy level to run again, so I started eating healthy foods and trying to add muscle," Buckingham said. "I still struggle with it today because I'm a perfectionist in that way, and I don't always like what I see in the mirror. But once I started eating again, I had so much more energy and strength, and it really helped my running."
Buckingham had a strong freshman season, finishing as the Cardinals' No. 1 runner in seven of 10 races.
As a sophomore, she finished eighth in the Division I, district 2 meet in a personal-best 19 minutes, 23.9 seconds. She then finished 28th (20:09.3) at regional to miss qualifying for state by 12 positions.
"I had a breakthrough season my freshman year and ran even faster my sophomore year," Buckingham said. "My junior season was difficult because I hurt my middle toe and every time it hit the ground, I had a striking pain shoot through my whole leg. I also struggled with anxiety problems because I was feeling stressed and overwhelmed a lot."
After running 40 to 45 miles per week throughout the offseason, Buckingham has started the season strong.
On Aug. 25, she won the Bengal division of the Pickerington Classic in 19:47.2. She also finished second (20:05.4) in the Granville Invitational on Sept. 1 and placed fourth (19:44.12) in the McGowan Invitational at Watkins Memorial on Sept. 8.
"Cheyenne has continued to work really hard and she looks like she's ready to have her best season," coach Andy Cox said. "Cheyenne is a strong leader in both the way she runs and the way she cheers her teammates when she's done with a race. Cheyenne has this bubbly personality that allows her to bring an extra level of excitement to her teammates."
Despite being a self-described goofball around her friends, Buckingham is competitive and wants to complete a race in under 19 minutes and advance to state.
She would like to run cross country and track in college and also enjoys spending time with her family, including 14-year-old sister Skye.
Skye has autism and is non-verbal and unable to run in formal races. But through the myTEAM TRIUMPH organization, the sisters are able to participate in races together, as Skye sits in a jogging stroller and is pushed by Cheyenne through race courses that vary in length.
"On race days, Skye jumps up and down around the house, smiles and sings in her own way a lot, because she really likes it," Buckingham said. "What's so cool about it is it's not about winning. It's such a great thing that I can share my passion with her, and now racing has become a passion for Skye, too."
Eisenhart Invitational up next for squads
The Cardinals' boys and girls teams are looking forward to playing host on Saturday, Oct. 6, to the Les Eisenhart Invitational.
Schools that will bring both boys and girls teams to the meet are Big Walnut, Dublin Coffman, Dublin Scioto, Elyria Catholic, Granville, Hilliard Bradley, Kilbourne, North Canton Hoover, Olentangy, Olentangy Orange, Pickerington North, Cincinnati Princeton, Reynoldsburg, Louisville St. Thomas Aquinas, Toledo Central Catholic, Village Academy, Wapakoneta and Westerville North.
Cincinnati LaSalle, Cincinnati Oak Hills, McArthur Vinton County and St. Charles will bring boys teams, and Dublin Jerome, Lancaster, Reynoldsburg, Pickerington Central and Cincinnati Ursuline Academy will bring girls squads.
Last year in the boys race, Thomas finished 11th (260) and Kilbourne 16th (434) in the 16-team Les Eisenhart Invitational behind champion LaSalle (102).
In the girls race, Thomas placed sixth (172) in the 13-team event behind champion Dublin Scioto (58). Kilbourne's girls squad competed in the open races.
"Obviously we are excited for the Les Eisenhart Invitational," Cox said. "For the Thomas Worthington teams, it is the start of the postseason. Our training shifts to the championship phase of our training. The girls team is making great progress and we are excited to see where we stand after the Eisenhart."