It seems impossible to imagine, watching Hunter Whitney run free and easy now, that he wasn’t even in Lane’s JV track lineup a year ago.
Whitney had been one of Lane’s better cross country runners during the pandemic-limited 2020 fall season and was expected to be a key member of the track distance crew last spring. But something was seriously wrong.
“I just suddenly was feeling very tired,” Whitney said. “I was not motivated. I got dizzy every time I stood up.”
Lane coach Kris Roof was among those concerned, and it wasn’t just about having to find another distance runner to plug into the lineup.
“We were really concerned for his mental health,” Roof said. “We’re in the throes of the season, gotta keep going, You have that next man [up] mentality because you want your team to do well.
“But at the same time, we’re deeply concerned. We all kind of felt helpless trying to help him.”
Finally, some blood tests revealed what was going on.
“My iron levels were extremely, extremely low, like dangerously so,” Whitney said. “So I took some time off, like two months. I started taking some iron pills to really just start getting myself healthy again in general.”
Though he was glad to finally put a name — anemia — to what had his body acting haywire, it was still a hard time. Like every other spring sport athlete in Illinois, Whitney already had lost an entire season (freshman track in 2020) to the pandemic. Now he had to sit again.
“It was very bad for my health to keep training so I had to force myself to stop,” he said, estimating it took “three to four months” to get back to normal.
Whitney knew it was best for the long term. But that didn’t make it any easier to not be out doing his favorite sport.
“Running is my stress outlet,” he said. “It’s what I love and enjoy to do. It was really, really frustrating. But I knew if I could just get healthy again, I could get back to it.”
Whitney did get healthy, and this school year he’s broken out as one of the best distance runners in the state, let alone the city, Last November, he was Lane’s first cross country all-stater in 47 years, finishing 23rd in Class 3A.
“That was my goal,” he said. “I’ve always wanted to get all-state as a junior since I was a freshman. I knew if I could do that I set myself up really well for senior year to make a bid for the state championship.”
Over the winter, Whitney traveled to compete in elite indoor mile races.
“It was an awesome experience,” he said. “It was honestly very humbling just to see the amount of talent we have in the United States, It really opened my eyes to the level we can compete at and the level I want to compete at.”
Despite a mostly miserable spring weather-wise, Whitney is competing at a high level now. He ran just one race at the Public League meet on May 14, winning the 3,200 meters by 27 seconds. Then at Thursday’s Proviso East Sectional, he took firsts in the 1,600 and as a member of the 3,200 relay to qualify for next weekend’s Class 3A state meet.
Besides Roof and the Lane staff, Whitney has been working with former DePaul and UIC coach Bill Leach.
“He said. ‘This kid’s going to do some damage,’” Roof said.
After last spring’s lost season, consider it just making up for lost time.