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All-Metro girls cross country runner of the year: O'Fallon's Schieppe overcomes disorder on way to stellar campaign

All-Metro girls cross country runner of the year: O'Fallon's Schieppe overcomes disorder on way to stellar campaign

From the 2020 All-Metro girls cross country series
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O'FALLON, Ill. — Peyton Schieppe eagerly unwrapped a few Christmas presents.

The O'Fallon High girls cross country standout thoroughly enjoyed the holiday festivities with her family last December.

For just four short hours.

Then it was time for Schieppe to return to McCallum Place Eating Disorder Center in Webster Groves.

"Wasn't much time for Christmas," she recalled.

Schieppe, one of the more promising distance runners in Illinois, found herself facing off with a host of personal demons during a time normally reserved for joy and wonderment.

The 5-foot-4 long strider spent 44 days under 24-hour watch at the center in hopes of getting on with a life that had grown increasingly painful.

It was the beginning of the end of a downhill spiral that took a major toll on her mental health and slowed her running skills, as well.

Schieppe was suffering from orthorexia, an aggressive focus on eating healthy foods. She consumed proper meals but in such small portions that it was affecting her strength and weight in an adverse manner.

"I’d see her sneak off to her room where we couldn't tell what or how much she was eating," said her mother, Rosemary.

The road to getting help was long and painful.

Class 3A Normal girls race

O'Fallon's Peyton Schieppe on the way to a second-place finish the Class 3A Normal Sectional championship meet on Saturday, October 31, 2020 at Maxwell Park in Normal, Ill. Paul Halfacre, STLhighschoolsports.com

Schieppe, now a junior, entered her sophomore season with high hopes after overcoming an ACL injury she suffered while playing basketball that forced her to miss a good majority of her freshman campaign. She worked hard during a long rehab stint and was prepared for a breakout season.

That seemed on track Sept. 14, 2019, when Schieppe rolled to a dominating 20-second victory in the 14th annual Forest Park Festival against the best Missouri had to offer. 

But she sustained a slight stress fracture that slowed her down. She powered through before the fracture eventually turned into a full-fledged break on the eve of the sectional meet.

The broken foot crushed Schieppe, who still went to the sectional meet in Normal with a boot on her foot to support her teammates.

The injury not only robbed Schieppe of a potential state medal but also played a part in her spinning downward into a difficult mental state.

"You could tell she just wasn't the same person," O'Fallon cross county coach Neil James said. "That bubbling personality was missing, and you could tell she might be dealing with other issues. Any little thing that happened, she would blow it up so much. That just wasn't her."

Schieppe was the most outgoing person on the team. But even at the start of that sophomore year, something was wrong. She was running well, at least as well as someone can while battling a stress fracture. But the normal fun-loving, day-to-day demeanor was absent.

Rosemary noticed it.

So did Peyton.

"I'd stay in my room an awful lot," she said. "I wouldn't want to go anywhere, talk to my friends or do anything."

O'Fallon junior Peyton Schieppe

O'Fallon junior Peyton Schieppe wears multiple medals that she earned this season in front of the O'Fallon High School gym on Monday, December 14, 2020 in O'Fallon, Ill. Paul Halfacre, STLhighschoolsports.com

Slowly, but surely, Schieppe was losing weight.

She went to a nutritionist and promised to eat more and showed some positive signs — until the doctor told her the bone in her foot was broken.

A month later, again after trying to conceal the illness, Peyton realized it was time to get professional help.

“The broken foot, missing the end of the season, it all got to her,” Rosemary said. “There was depression, and then came the anger.”

With encouragement from Rosemary and her husband, Stephen, Peyton entered the center Dec. 10, 2019. On January 23, 2020, she left as a changed person.

James noticed it early during spring workouts.

"Right away, it was obvious the old Peyton was back," he said. "Outgoing, funny, ready to help her teammates. We were so happy to see it."

O'Fallon junior Peyton Schieppe

O'Fallon junior Peyton Schieppe ties her shoes before a workout with her multiple medals in front of the O'Fallon gym on Monday, December 14, 2020 in O'Fallon, Ill. Paul Halfacre, STLhighschoolsports.com

Schieppe gradually worked herself into shape. By the start of this cross country season in August, she was back to her old form. She won the Granite City and Belleville West invitationals in September. She also grabbed gold in the Southwestern Conference meet with a clocking of 17 minutes, 53.46 seconds — the fastest time among area girls on a long course this season.

She continued her roll with strong second-place finishes in the Granite City Regional and Normal Community Sectional, losing only to Normal Community freshman standout Ali Ince at both events.

The season was cut short by COVID-19, and no state meet was run in Illinois.

But there was no doubt Schieppe was back to her previous form. She not only reeled off eye-popping times, but she has been selected as the Post-Dispatch All-Metro girls cross country runner of the year.

"She had a great season overall," James said. "She was just go, go, go, go all the time. Her workouts, she just hammered them every day."

James believes Schieppe is on track to garner an NCAA Division I scholarship down the road.

"There's so much potential there," he said.

Schieppe never told her friends about her eating and depression problems.

But she has chosen to come forward now in order to help other runners who may believe the theory that the more weight you lose the faster you can run.

"I just hope they understand that there are the right ways of doing things and the wrong ways," she said. "I was doing things the wrong way, and that can get you in trouble."

O'Fallon junior Peyton Schieppe

O'Fallon junior Peyton Schieppe, the Southwest Conference champion prepares for the upcoming track season while showing off medals in front of the O'Fallon High School sign on Monday, December 14, 2020 in O'Fallon, Ill. Paul Halfacre, STLhighschoolsports.com

Schieppe said she learned a lot during her six-week stay at the care center.

She was not permitted to use her phone and not allowed to leave the facility — except for a brief family visit at Christmas.

"We were given the option," she said. "I had to go see my family."

Schieppe said she is in a better place mentally, as well. The eating disorder and depression went hand in hand. She also said she realized she needs to keep her body and mind in top shape to avoid a potential relapse.

"I've gone through a lot, but it's made me a better person," she said. "That's the good to come out of all this. If another runner is going through this, maybe she’ll realize that she’s not alone and there is help out there."

ALL-METRO GIRLS CROSS COUNTRY FIRST TEAM

ALL-METRO GIRLS CROSS COUNTRY SECOND TEAM

ALL-METRO GIRLS CROSS COUNTRY THIRD TEAM

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