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Mercer Island senior graduates with 14 varsity letters
For even the most dedicated athlete, finishing high school with 12 varsity letters is rare. With three seasons of sports over the course of four years at Mercer Island High School, one person would conceivably top out at 12, assuming they made varsity in every sport they played since their freshman year. It has happened a handful of times: Jean Laschever earning 12 letters in 2004, Janelle Chow in 2009 and Christina Williamson, just last year.
But this year, senior Emily Lightfoot earned her 14th varsity letter of her high school career, competing in three sports every year while also participating in cheer.
Here's how she did it: during her first three years of high school, Lightfoot played varsity girls soccer during the fall season before switching to diving her senior year, placing 17th at the state tournament. In the winters, she participated in gymnastics throughout high school, qualifying for state each year. Each spring, she competed in track and field, advancing to districts her first three years before making it to state this year. And she did cheerleading throughout, but only lettered as a varsity cheerleader twice because JV cheer is the only option for 9th and 10th grade cheerleaders.
Lightfoot, a fifth-generation Islander from one of the original families to live on Mercer Island, said her inspiration for doing all these activities was quite simple.
“I guess I just like doing it," she said. "I feel I can handle all the things I put on my plate, I can manage school and everything. I've done pretty well so far, so I guessed I could keep doing it.”
Lightfoot’s mother, Suzy, also an MIHS alum who played basketball and volleyball at Mercer Island, said her daughter’s busy nature goes all the way back to her preschool years.
“She started in gymnastics at about two years old and she wanted to go more than once a week. She couldn't get enough of it," her mother recalled. "Then we scheduled soccer at four or five years old, it’s always been part of her life and part of our life.”
While the teen found a way to manage all of her activities over the course of her high school career, being so busy didn’t start off easy for Lightfoot. She recalls her freshman year as her hardest, when after attending St. Monica’s from kindergarten through 8th grade, high school was pretty new and she had to make new friends. It didn’t help that she was doing club soccer, which had its own schedule independent of her varsity sports. With all the traveling involved, Lightfoot’s parents ultimately made her choose between school sports and club soccer.
“It was kind of rough. I had a lot going on, going from high school sports and then leaving early for soccer club practices. I had to be very organized and had to plan what to do day-to-day.”
Yet, being involved in so many activities offered many social avenues. Lightfoot said doing so many sports helped her make a lot of great friends, people with whom she otherwise may not have known. But with sport seasons overlapping, Lightfoot never really took a break from sports during the school year. She admits she’d often feel as if she was spread too thin when homework would pile up and her energy would be running low. It was in those tougher times when she would find out how badly she wanted to do what she was doing.
“I’d feel like I’d have to calm down and think, but I think this is all worth it because I love doing all these sports,” she said. “I'm glad I stuck with them because I made a lot of friends and it makes me happy to stay busy.”
Despite the myriad of demands on her time, Lightfoot was still able to handle a course load her senior year that included three AP classes and maintain a GPA around 3.5, though she’s quick to mention all her friends have “really, really high GPAs.” She has also been involved in various clubs, including National Honor Society, Senior Service Club, Natural Helpers, Saferides, VOICE and Relay for Life. She believes she thrives on staying busy, as it forces her to plan ahead and make sure she gets things done.
“She always managed. If there was an overlap, she wanted to make it work and stayed up late to do homework,” said Suzy. “She always accepted it and wanted to do it all.”
While she kept a close eye on her daughter’s grades, Suzy said her biggest concern with her daughter’s busy schedule was getting hurt.
“I was really afraid of injury. You see kids get hurt and they can’t participate, and she just never got hurt, it was always so surprising. That was the biggest thing I worried about, injury and then getting holed up at home because she couldn’t play.”
Lightfoot will attend Gonzaga University in the fall and plans to study nursing. She wants to continue doing cheer and is considering participating in intramural sports, but she realizes she might have to slow things down in college. Still, after managing school, varsity sports and cheerleading every season of her high school career, Lightfoot knows what it takes when it comes to accomplishing goals.
“I don’t think there are enough hours sometimes, but everything is doable. To make time for things, you just have to sacrifice other things if it’s worth it. I had to sacrifice sleep to do homework sometimes but in the end, it was worth it because I got to do the things I loved.”