Imagine what it must feel like to transfer to a new high school in another part of the country before the start of your senior year.
The seniors on the San Marcos cross country team made sure Lee Al-Atraqchi felt welcomed when she arrived from Acton, Mass., for her final year of high school. They made posters and treats and placed them in her family’s new home before she arrived to join her parents in Santa Barbara.
Al-Atraqchi quickly has become a vital member of the team. She’s placed among the top seven finishers at four races and has been the Royals’ No. 2 runner behind CIF State Meet 800-meter champion Erica Schroeder.
Al-Atraqchi is competing in her first season of cross country. She didn’t run for the Acton-Boxborough Regional High cross country team in Massachusetts, preferring to play soccer — her first love — in the fall.
“Every year I’d come to the decision whether to run cross country or soccer,” she said during a break from a workout. She’s played soccer since the 1st grade.
Now that she’s in Santa Barbara and the CIF soccer season is held during the winter months, she can do both sports.
“That is really exciting because I always wanted to do that,” she said.
She’ll be playing forward or midfielder for the Royals soccer team in the winter and run track in the spring. She ran the 2-mile for the Boxborough High track team. Her outdoor PR is 11:08.59.
“The longer the race the better for me, so I was really excited to be able to finally do cross country,” she said.
She was thrilled to learn she’d be on the same team as Schroeder. “When I found out I was on her team I was so excited because I’ve never been on a team with someone who is that good. It’s really helpful.”
Schroeder and Al-Atraqchi are part of solid quartet of runners for coach Lawrence Stehmeier that has the potential to go far in the postseason.
“She’s a sharp cookie and it’s great to have her on the team,” he said of Al-Atraqchi. “It’s made it so we have a super strong top four: Natalie McClure, Erica Schroeder, Mya Adornetto and Lee.”
At the recent Bell-Jeff Invitational held on a hilly course at Griffith Park in L.A., Schroeder finished first, Al-Atraqchi fourth and Adornetto 10th out of 187 runners and San Marcos won the large-school division team title.
Al-Atraqchi started running when she was in the 7th grade.
“I like the feeling at the end (of a race or workout),” she explained on why she likes running. “You get the runner’s high; it makes all of (the work) worth it when you finish — you’re super happy and (feeling) on top of the world. Even if it’s not your best race, you know you put everything you could into it. I really like to push myself … I just love it.”
She enjoys the course variety and team aspect cross country offers. “It’s nice to have all the girls with you, pushing it,” she said.
Her goals are to break 19 minutes and help the team make it to the State Meet in Fresno
While recognizing how tough it must have been for Al-Atraqchi to leave the town she grew up in and come cross country for her 12th grade year, Stehmeier said her “great personality” has helped in her transition to a new school and area.
“The team welcomed her, but she turned around and welcomed the team in,” he said. “I see her and she’s talking with all grade levels. She’s opened up and has fit in really well.”
Find past High School Runners of the Month HERE
The High School Runner of the Month award recognizes local prep runners that exemplify the term “Student-Athlete” by demonstrating leadership, passion and excellence in high school athletics.
Thanks to Santa Barbara Running Company for making this award possible and for supporting local athletes.