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.
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."
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."
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."
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
2020 All-Metro girls cross country first team
Alyssa Elliott, junior, Belleville West
Lowest finish was fourth place in a breakout season that followed a promising sophomore campaign. Elliott was the Southwestern Conference runner-up with a time of 17:58.6, which was the area’s second-best on a 5-kilometer course. She also was runner-up in the Belleville West Invitational and won the Triad Invitational. Elliott’s fastest time on a 3-mile course was 17:29.8 to finish fourth in the Class 3A Granite City Regional, and she was third in the Normal Sectional, the second-best showing for an area runner at that season-ending meet. First All-Metro selection.
Lily Jackson, junior, St. Charles West
Became her school’s first cross country state champion by rolling to the Class 4 title with a personal-best time of 18:21.6 on the 5-kilometer Gans Creek course in Columbia. Jackson’s state victory came by almost nine full seconds and was the area’s third-fastest performance that weekend regardless of classification. A repeat first team All-Metro pick, Jackson won five titles overall, including the Class 4 District 3 meet, and didn’t finish lower than fourth in seven races.
Riley Knoyle, sophomore, Edwardsville
Repeat first-team All-Metro selection helped lead the Tigers to three team titles, including the Southwestern Conference meet. Knoyle finished in the top three of five races and her lowest finish was fifth in the Class 3A Normal Sectional. Coming off a freshman season where she ran a program-record time at the state meet, Knoyle won the Madison County large school title, was second in the Granite City Invitational and third at both the Granite City regional with a season-best time of 17:19.1 on a 3-mile course; and at the SWC meet, where her 18:21.91 was seventh-best in the area in a 5-kilometer event.
Ally Kruger, junior, Liberty
Set a Gans Creek course record and personal best of 18:03.10 while winning the Class 5 state championship, the first in school history. Kruger’s margin of victory was more than seven seconds and it was her fifth individual title of the season. She also captured titles at the Forest Park Festival, Gans Creek Classic, GAC Central meet and Class 5 District 4 meet. Kruger also finished second in three other races. She also was a first team All-Metro pick as a freshman and was a third-team selection as a sophomore.
Julia Ray, sophomore, MICDS
Rolled to six individual championships against the area’s best Missouri runners before finishing fourth in the Class 5 state meet. Ray’s fastest time of the season was 18:16.21 to win the Border War Championships at McNair Park. Her other titles were the Eagle-Crusader Invitational, Fox Invitational, Dale Sheppard Invitational, Metro League and Class 5 District 3 meet. Ray is a return first team All-Metro selection. She was the Class 4 individual state champion as a freshman and led MICDS to the team title in 2019, as well.
Macy Schelp, senior, Lutheran South
Signed to run at the University of Alabama. Schelp became Lutheran South’s first state champion since 1990 when she won the Class 3 title in a time of 18:54.3 on the 5-kilometer Gans Creek course. Schelp’s fastest time of the season was 18:29.81, when she finished second in Fox’s Ed White Invitational. Including the state meet, Schelp won three titles including the Hancock Invitational and Class 3 District 1 meet. She was runner-up in two other meets and third twice, as well. Schelp is a three-time All-Metro honoree, making the second team as a junior and third team as a sophomore.
Grace Tyson, sophomore, Lafayette
Played a leading role in Lancers winning the Class 5 state team championship, the third in program history and first since 2015. It was Lafayette’s sixth team title of the season, and Tyson was the team’s top finisher in all seven of its races. That included her runner-up individual finish in the state meet with a personal-best time of 18:10.6. A returning first team All-Metro pick, Tyson won three individual titles — Festus, Eureka and the Class 5 District 2 meet — finished runner-up three times and was third once.
ALL-METRO GIRLS CROSS COUNTRY SECOND TEAM
2020 All-Metro girls cross country second team
Josie Baker, freshman, Kirkwood
Finished in the top four in the first six races of her career, including a runner-up showing in the Class 5 District 2 meet and a victory in the Terry Meatheany Invitational. Baker’s top time was 18:45.96 from a fourth-place effort in the Eureka Invitational. She finished the season 16th in the Class 5 state meet.
Elissa Barnard, sophomore, Lafayette
Made a remarkable improvement to finish ninth at state meet after finishing 145th as a freshman. Her time of 18:43.60 on the 5-kilometer Gans Creek course was her best of the season and helped Lafayette capture the Class 5 team championship. Other than state, Barnard had six finishes of sixth place or better.
Kristen Ess, senior, Breese Central
Won program’s first regional title and her runner-up appearance in the Class 1A Althoff Sectional was the first for a Breese Central runner. Ess won five titles, including the Cahokia Conference Mississippi Division, and her time of 18:29.8 on the 3-mile course in the Freeburg Regional was a personal best, good for a 45-second victory.
Kylie Goldfarb, senior, John Burroughs
Will attend Yale to continue running career. Led Bombers to Class 3 team state championship, which was the program’s first. Goldfarb was the individual runner-up at state for the second time in three seasons; she won the 2017 title as a freshman. Goldfarb also won the Class 3 District 2 meet and finished second in the Metro League meet in 18:53.63, her season-best clocking.
Angelynn Kanyuck, freshman, Waterloo
Ran to six victories after opening with the worst finish of her debut season — fifth — in the loaded Granite City Invitational. Kanyuck’s victories included the Class 2A Highland Regional, where she ran a season-best 18:34.8 on a 3-mile course, and the Mississippi Valley Conference meet. Wrapped up season third in Olney Sectional.
Emily Sipp, senior, Parkway West
Won three titles and capped career with best state finish in three tries, a 10th-place showing in the Class 5 meet with a personal-best time of 18:44.2 that helped the Longhorns finish second in the team standings. Sipp’s individual titles came in Parkway West’s Cowboy Classic and Giddy Giddy meets and the Webster Groves Invitational. She also was third in the Class 5 District 2 meet.
Hope Ware, senior, Lafayette
Closed her career with a personal-best time of 18:31.6 to finish sixth in the Class 5 state meet, helping Lafayette to its first team state championship since 2015. Ware didn’t finish lower than fourth in any other race while consistently running in the No. 2 position for the Lancers, who won six team titles.
ALL-METRO GIRLS CROSS COUNTRY THIRD TEAM
2020 All-Metro girls cross country third team
Leah Kleekamp, junior, Eureka
Peaked at the perfect time. Ran a personal-best time of 18:32.2 to finish seventh in the Class 5 state meet, almost 30 seconds faster than any other race this season. Kleekamp also won Hillsboro’s Frank Schultz Invitational and posted four other top-seven finishes, including a sixth-place showing in the Class 5 District 2 meet.
Maya Lueking, freshman, Edwardsville
Ran season-best 18:53.1 to finish 13th in Class 3A Granite City Regional. Consistent presence who helped Tigers to three team titles by posting four finishes of seventh or better, including second in the Madison County large school meet and fourth in the Southwestern Conference meet.
Hannah Meiser, sophomore, Civic Memorial
Strong finish to the season included a third-place showing in the Class 2A Jacksonville Regional and fourth-place effort in the Olney Sectional. Meiser’s top 3-mile time was 19:03.5 to win the Madison County small school championship, and she never finished lower than sixth.
Julia Monson, junior, O'Fallon
Ran a season-best time of 18:20.8 to finish seventh in Class 3A Granite City Regional, which was area’s fourth-best performance on a 3-mile course. Monson also was 18th in the Normal Sectional, which was the area’s fourth-best showing at the meet, and posted top-eight finishes in three other meets.
Julia O’Neill, senior, Althoff
Ran a personal-best time of 18:52.3 to finish second in the South 7 Conference meet and went on to solid postseason finishes — second in the Class 1A Freeburg Regional and fourth in the 1A Althoff Sectional. A standout soccer player, O’Neill also won four regular-season meets.
Mia Reed, senior, Washington
Signed to run for Missouri Baptist. Wrapped Blue Jays cross country career by finishing 12th in Class 5 state meet with a season-best time of 18:53.6. It was her third consecutive all-state finish, including 12th as a junior. Reed won once, was runner-up twice and was fourth in the Class 5 District 4 meet. She also is a two-time state qualifier for Washington’s girls wrestling team.
Kayley Russell, freshman, Holt
Won a pair of titles, including the GAC South meet, when she ran a season-best time of 18:36.59. Russell also won the McNair Invitational. She also was second twice, including at the Class 5 District 4 meet, when she only was bested by eventual state champ Ally Kruger of Liberty. Russell missed making her state debut because of COVID-19 quarantine protocols.
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