When Makenna Sunbury was 8 years old, she asked her father, Spencer, if she could stay up past midnight on a balmy July night.
The reasoning behind the extended bedtime wasn’t a typical request.
While many kids try to push their curfew during the summertime to watch movies or stay up late with friends, Sunbury wanted to run 3.1 miles through downtown Seymour.
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Makenna and Spencer would run the half-mile loop around their neighborhood, but the Midnight 5K was a first.
“I was going to run the midnight run, and she asked me if she could do it,” Spencer said. “I ran alongside her. She wanted to do it. We’ve now done several races together, from that to Oktoberfest to Fort Vallonia Days. I remember running the Oktoberfest while pushing her in a stroller.”
After completing the late-night jaunt, Makenna knew she wanted to run competitively for as long as she could.
Fast forward a few years later, and Sunbury instantly made an impact on the distance running programs at Seymour High School while also being coached by her dad.
Sunbury was named All-Hoosier Hills Conference in both her freshman and sophomore years at SHS while also advancing all the way to the state finals in cross-country in back-to-back seasons. She also was a regional qualifier both years for the 3,200 in track and helped the Owls’ 4×800 relay team set a school record at state in 2017 while also claiming an HHC title.
To start her junior year, Sunbury wasn’t hitting the times she had hoped for to start the season.
Right before the HHC meet, she received some news that would prematurely end her fall running campaign.
“I didn’t have any pain all season, and then, all of a sudden, my foot just started hurting,” Sunbury said. “I ended up having three stress fractures, including one complete fracture. I just had to rest and wear a boot. I was hoping to be back for (the postseason), but it still hurt and wasn’t worth it. I was in the boot between six and eight weeks before slowly getting back into it during the winter.”
Sunbury rehabbed for months before getting set for the 2019 track season, where she would finish her year strong by advancing to the regional in the 3,200 while also helping the Owls secure the 4×800 relay sectional title.
Now a senior, Sunbury plans on turning heads while returning to the cross-country circuit.
Sunbury will step into the No. 1 running position for the Owls this fall and has put in the work to propel herself back to a state-level competitor.
Over the past few months, she has approached the season with a different mindset.
“This summer, she has worked harder than I have ever seen her work, not just running, but with core and being diligent with being consistent with workouts,” Spencer said. “I’m excited to see how she handles the season. She has a mission this season. She wants to prove something.”
One of the biggest differences this summer is that Ashton Chase is no longer on the team. Chase, who is continuing her running at IUPUI, was a regional champion in 2018 and a four-time state qualifier for the Owls during her career. Chase and Sunbury acted as a one-two punch for the Owls, consistently finishing in the top five while running in the same races together.
While Chase isn’t around, Sunbury is still pushing her limits.
“I have been running by myself a lot, so it has been pretty tough, but it has helped me get stronger mentally,” Makenna said. “I think that will help a lot with my races. I do miss Ashton a lot. It was always great to have her by my side.”
Spencer said with Chase no longer with the program, he expects his daughter to continue providing leadership for the team and wants her to lead — and push — the other runners on the team.
Makenna recently decided she wants to continue her running career in college, and she’s using that hope as fuel for her final year with the Owls.
“I’m really excited because I have a lot of motivation this season,” she said. “I’ve set some expectations for what I want to do, so I have been pushing myself harder in practice. It has been really good so far.”
In cross-country, Makenna’s career-best time is 19:11. She hopes to break 19 minutes this fall with the ultimate goal of returning to state.
“Dad and I both agree that this is my last season, so I need to give it everything I have,” Makenna said. “It’s a time to show everyone what I can do after missing last season.”
Sunbury and the Owls look to win the Seymour Invitational at Freeman Field to open the season Aug. 22.