Leah Kleekamp embraces every moment of her fast-paced life.
The senior at Eureka High School excels in cross country and track. She is a proficient piano player and tap dancer. She is a member of the National Honor Society and is executive secretary on the student council.
“I’m constantly in the mindset of, ‘Do your best and everything will work out from there,’ ” Kleekamp said of her athletic and academic pursuits. “It’s not easy to do both and do well in both. I think a lot of it is focus.”
Kleekamp, 18, can now add another honor to her growing list of accomplishments.
She is Eureka’s Post-Dispatch Scholar Athlete for 2022.
“I’m so excited,” Kleekamp said. “I’m proud of myself because I feel like it’s a sign that you’re a pretty well-rounded person — as a scholar and in your sport. I grew up doing a lot of things. I’ve always had school and extra activities.”
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For Kleekamp, they go hand in hand.
“Through running, you learn hard work and discipline,” Kleekamp said. “That’s helped me in the classroom to get my work done and to work hard. So I think they impact each other. I try to take care of myself and get everything done so I can focus, relax and not be stressed. It’s a nice little balance.”
Kleekamp placed second in the Class 5 state cross country meet in November, completing the 5-kilometer course in 17 minutes and 56.5 seconds. In track, Kleekamp competes in the 400-, 800- and 1,600-meter races, and occasionally in the 3,200. Her favorite event is the 800, as an individual and on the 3,200 relay team, which placed second at state in 2021 with a 9:37.85.
Kleekamp was an academic all-state performer and an all-state selection in cross country in 2019, 2020 and 2021. She was an academic all-state pick and an all-state honoree in track in 2021 after her sophomore season was erased by the COVID-19 pandemic. Kleekamp also was named to the Post-Dispatch All-Metro first team in cross country in 2019 and 2021.
“She’s a coach’s dream,” Eureka cross country and track coach Darrell Lewis said. “You ask her to do something, it’s going to get done. Even in races, with different strategies and tactics she’s not comfortable with, she’s like, ‘All right, I’ll try it.’ ”
Lewis said Kleekamp is a leader like no other.
“This past (cross country) season, I was talking to a freshman and telling her, ‘Next year, you’re probably going to be a varsity kid for us. We need you to step up,’ ” Lewis said. “She was like, ‘Coach, one of my goals is to be the type of leader that Leah is. I showed up on day one as a freshman and the fastest kid on the team, Leah, was the first person to welcome me to the team.’ ”
Kleekamp greatly enjoys both cross country and track, but said cross country occupies “a special place” in her heart.
“Both of them are big team sports, but I love in cross country how you run at the same time as your team,” she said. “I’ve always been prouder of being first-team All-Metro in cross country. That individual success helps with team success.”
Kleekamp loves challenges. That makes her appreciate cross country.
“Cross country is a humbling sport,” she said. “It very quickly weeds out the people who don’t have the determination and grit to do it. That’s why I love the sport — because it is so hard. You have to grow your physical and mental strength in order to do it, so it takes time.”
Kleekamp is the daughter of Kurt and Mary Kleekamp, and the younger sister of Alexis, 21, a junior at the University of Missouri. Mary Kleekamp is the principal at Geggie Elementary School in Eureka.
“We’re very proud of Leah,” Mary Kleekamp said. “She’s a one-of-a-kind type of girl. She’s always interested in championing others and doing what she can to support them. Ever since she was very little, it was easy for her to make friends, and she sought people out. That was her thing.
“As far as school, she’s always been interested, ambitious. She and her sister did everything together; she was in her sister’s wings. She took everything serious and gave her personal best. She’s just a happy kid and gives 100%. She’s a natural leader and it thrills her when she can contribute and also support those around her. Her passion is to serve others.”
Lewis said Kleekamp always takes keen interest in her teammates.
“In cross country, Leah was our first kid across the finish line,” he said. “She doesn’t leave the finish line until her last teammate finishes. She gives them a hug as they cross the finish line and then walks them all back to the tent. She is very team oriented. She likes personal success, but only when it benefits the team.
“She’s a quality kid. You can’t ask for anyone better.”
Kleekamp developed solid school habits at an early age. She remembers doing homework at Geggie Elementary while mom completed her workday.
Those early years of paying attention to detail have helped Kleekamp produce a weighted grade-point average of 4.20 at Eureka. The topic of perhaps cutting back on extracurricular activities never surfaced with Kleekamp recording such high grades.
“Such an important part of high school is getting involved. That’s what makes you really love it,” Kleekamp said. “I love getting to know so many different people and being friends with everybody. I find it very rewarding. I could give up things, but there’s nothing I want to give up.”
Every activity has helped Kleekamp evolve. In student council, Kleekamp said she’s learned how to be a leader, not just a member. High school sports, of course, have been a major contributor to the type of person Kleekamp has become, as have former competitions in piano and tap dancing.
“I played piano quite a bit growing up,” Kleekamp said. “I mostly did classical things, like Mozart and Sonatas. I don’t compete anymore, but I still enjoy it a lot. I also used to competitively dance in middle school, but I chose to quit (dancing) so I could focus on running. Now I just tap dance for fun. But I am doing a duet with my friend for my senior year.”
Kleekamp will compete in cross country and track at the University of Alabama, where she will major in education.
One of her interests for the future is teaching deaf students. Alabama doesn’t have that particular major, but Kleekamp said she hopes to circumvent the issue by attaining necessary certifications.
“That’s a whole journey I have to figure out,” she said. “But I do really love (American Sign Language). I’ll have to find a way to get there. It’s a dream.”