If Samantha Levin could have been on the next plane to St. Louis she’d have booked her flight and flown back in a heartbeat. She was worn out, beaten down, tired and drained.
It’s not easy being a college freshman far from home. It’s even harder when you’re competing for the most storied women’s track and field program. Levin took her talents to Louisiana State University this past fall. The LSU women’s program won its 26th track championship the second week of June. The LSU ladies have won 15 outdoor and 11 indoor titles. The Bayou Bengals are the standard by which other programs are measured. Elite talent doesn’t just pass through LSU. You have to be elite just to get your foot in the door.
Levin, 19, is elite. A standout at Ladue, Levin won the Class 4 800-meter championship three times. Her time of 2 minutes 6.74 seconds, set her senior year, is the state record. She was a big fish in what she thought was a pretty big pond.
Then she went to practice. Her teammates had as many if not more accolades. They were bigger, stronger, faster and more experienced. Seven of her teammates competed at the U.S. Olympic Trials last week in Eugene, Oregon.
“It was very tough,” said Levin, who is 5 feet 6. “It’s a good thing to train with some of the best athletes, but it was different. It was hard being a freshman. I think I learned a lot.”
What she learned was that for all her talents and hard work she was back at the bottom of the totem pole. She learned that balancing a rigorous training schedule with a full load of classes wasn’t easy.
“My schedule was probably the hardest part,” she said.
Levin learned that the jump from high school senior to college freshman is wider than the Grand Canyon. She thought she was prepared for it. Levin spent her high school career working with former Ladue assistant coach Sean Burris, who is revered in track circles for his dynamic training of the mind and body. Levin ran for Burris in the summer time, too. She’d been to the biggest meets; she’d seen the fiercest competition. The difference at LSU was she saw that competition every day at practice.
“The competition, that was kind of a shock,” she said. “The workouts were similar to what I did with Coach Burris.”
Levin was training every day in one way, shape or form. She practiced with the cross country team in the fall and then had indoor track practice in the winter and outdoor track practice in the spring.
Despite her struggles, Levin was named to the outdoor track and field All-SEC Freshman Team in the 800 after finishing eighth at the conference meet.
Things were just starting to turn around for her when her body started giving her fits. Her back began to ache. After it was looked it by the training staff and team doctors, she was diagnosed with a hairline fracture in her spine. Levin says her form changed at college and when her body tried to compensate for the adjustment, it caused the fracture.
“I wasn’t used to using certain muscles,” she said. “I have to do lots of core work (for rehab).”
Levin, who battled injuries throughout her high school career, was heartbroken her season came to an end that way. But the summer has given her a chance to recharge her batteries and prepare for her sophomore year. There is hope the rough patches are past and she’ll be able to get back to doing what she’s always done — dominate. Her teammate Charlene Lipsey is a junior and the reigning SEC 800 champion ran 2:02.6. She, too, had a rough start to her collegiate career.
“It really does give me confidence,” Levin said.