By Richard Smith
West Valley Preps
Like most highly competitive runners, Deer Valley junior Emily Stutesman crossed the finish line Nov. 4 and her first thoughts and words were focused on how she could have finished better. If she had a better finishing kick, Stutesman told Coach Chris Zent, she could have finished second instead of fourth.
Zent immediately dismissed that line of thought, telling Stutesman how proud he was of her. He, the tightly-knit Deer Valley family and the equally close-knit distance running community in Arizona were simply thrilled to see Emily back on course.
She placed fourth in Division II with a time of 19.12, two year after finishing sixth in 19:17.9 as a freshman. The improved place and time are especially redemptive for Stutesman considering why she missed state in her sophomore season.
One year ago as the state finals unfolded, Emily Stuteman was receiving inpatient treatment for anorexia at the Rosewood Center for Eating Disorders in Wickenburg.
“I’m good with sharing it. I left Sept. 13 and got back Dec. 13. I started training again at the end of January and it’s been a long time coming back,” Stutesman said after the Division II race. “It changed my mindset completely. It’s not until you really lose what you love that you learn how much you really love it. The enire time I just wanted to get back to my team. Every time my parents visited I’d ask, ‘How is the team? How are they doing?’ It made my passion for running so much greater than before. I can’t even put into words how much it means to be here and be with such elite athletes and amazing people. It’s so important to me.”
Best of all, she said, this season and that Saturday morning confirmed that she can live healthy, compete at a high level, and enjoy being part of the team and the distance running fraternity again.
“I came in ranked sixth. That’s what I got my freshman year. And I just wanted to prove to myself that I can do better than I did then — that I’m healthy now and I can do this with a healthy body,” Stutesman said.
Zent has coached the Skyhawks since 2011 and served as a Sunrise Mountain assistant in 2010, when he was a student teacher at the Peoria school. He said in all his years running and coaching, he’s never dealt with an eating disorder to this level.
He said the Skyhawk family supported her when they could, and knowing what a likeable, thoughtful and determined kid Stutesman is made the whole experience even more difficult.
“I’m going to get a little emotional talking about it,” Zent said after the Division II races Nov. 4. “One, you’ve got to understand that everyone at Deer Valley really rallied around her. The bottom line is, there is not a better person I’ve met than that young lady. She’s the toughest kid I’ve met. She’s smart and so coachable — she leans on every word.”
Stutesman came back in time for the track season this spring. Zent said he had to begin his balancing actbetween pushing an athlete and protecting her long-term physical and mental health — and walk a finer line than with your average distance runner.
“She has big goals and she always wanted to come back. So balancing between challenging her and having her realize — I know today she’s not happy with finishing fourth — where she’s at and understand that. She has great parents and they’ve been so supportive. They have helped her come along and I’ve said, ‘You let me know, I don’t want to rush anything coming back. It’s about her long-term health.”
After completing and placing in all three distance races as a freshman, Stutesman returned and focused on the 3,200 meters.
She qualified for the state meet in May, but it was a difficult night as she finished 24th.
“It was emotional and she was a mess and I said, ‘You shouldn’t even be in this race.’ We even talked about that today (Nov. 4) that she shouldn’t be in this race given the extent of what she went through. It’s the best story I’ve ever been a part of,” Zent said.
Following her cross country season, track is now something Emily said she is looking forward to — partially for the competition, but more for the camraderie developed with her peers before, during and after her ordeal.
That includes two of the top three finishers at the cross country meet, Abi Archer of Scottsdale Chaparral, Alania Kautz of Gilbert Campo Verde.
“We’ll get to see each other again during track. It’s fun to race against people like that. They’re amazing,”
Every step along the way, since she finished outpatient care, the cross country community has lent a habd to the young woman who tends to leave an impression.
“She went up to cross country camp at Western State in Colorado and they were so gracious to her,” Zent said. “And really this is about Emily — that individual is so unique. Even on my worst days I know I get to wake up — and I love my boys I coach — and coach her everyday. It’s amazing.”
Once she made it back, fellow runners from all corners of the state have taken it upon themselves to keep her strong — to add to the circle of care she already has in the Skyhawk community.
“Last year I would still be inpatient right now. Thinking about that experience and everything that has happened … proving to myself that I can do this for my teammate and my coach … they’ve all been there to support me. My family and other runners — like Clara Haynes (of Yuma Gila Ridge) — and numerous people have texted me and asked how I’m doing. It’s amazing to have such a big support system, not just at schoo. People I didn’t even know that well were texting me and asking how I was. After inpatient I did three months of outpatient therapy which is basically group therapy. It was a long recovery process. It’s amazing knowing you have such a great group of people. I know I can call any one of them when I need support and they’ll be there.”