The Wolfpacker

January 2017

The Wolfpacker: An Independent Magazine Covering NC State Sports

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JANUARY 2017 ■ 59 WHEREARETHEYNOW? BY MATT CARTER T o suggest Janet Leet, who went by Janet Smith prior to getting mar- ried after college, was a big deal as a cross country and track star at Edison (N.J.) J.P. Stevens High might be an understatement. How many high school runners get a full- length feature in The New York Times like Leet, who had an article published in the Jan. 22, 1984 edition of "The Grey Lady." Her exploits at the prep level, which in- cluded capturing three cross county titles at New Jersey's Meet of Champions and winning the Kinney Foot Locker National Championship race in 1983 by more than 100 meters in a course record time that stood for seven years (after finishing fifth the previous two years), were remembered in 1999 when she was named "Runner of the Century" for high school girls cross country in New Jersey by Leet's competitive career started when she was a 7-year-old second-grader. In her first-ever race. she was tripped by a bigger girl standing next to her. Leet quickly dusted herself off, ran down the bully and beat her to the finish line. The fourth of five children in her fam- ily may have proven herself resilient, com- petitive and fast that day, but her heart still belonged to another sport: basketball. The problem is that 4-10, 70-pound high school freshmen don't typically project as basketball players. She wanted to play soccer and basketball plus compete in track in the spring in high school, but that all changed when she beat the boys in a gym class race in her last year at junior high school. She was encouraged to call the cross coun- try coach, John Grundy, at J.P. Stevens High, and soon the middle school girl was running for the high school. "I trained with the boys because there weren't that many girls, and I literally raced with the boys all season," she recalled. "The first female race I got to run was our county meet, and I ended up winning by a minute. "I kept thinking I was going to get beat, and I never got beat that season." Leet quickly proved to be an elite-level runner, one whose future became clearer when she was a sophomore in high school. For three straight meets, a college coach stood next to her mother, Joan. After the first meet, the coach told her mom that Leet could probably qualify for some scholar- ship money. That immediately caught her mother's attention. After the second meet, the coach turned to her mother and said, "She could probably get a full scholarship." When Leet's coach suggested around that time that she get a pair of spikes, her mother complied with what she considered a long- term investment. After losing only once in a statewide cross country race in her prep career, Leet was a highly sought-after recruit and took five of- ficial visits. Her trip to Arizona was more for leisure than serious consideration. After hearing about 80-degree temperatures there while it was snowing in New Jersey, she wanted get out into the warm sun. The other four schools had to meet certain criteria. "I wanted to find a program where I wasn't going to be the No. 1 runner," Leet noted. "I wanted to be challenged. I had aspirations of doing stuff well beyond my college years. I wanted to find a program where I could de- velop, and where I would have training part- ners so that I wouldn't be alone all the time." Tennessee tried to sway her by rooming Leet on her visit with future four-time Olym- pian and fellow New Jersey native Joetta Clark. But Clark competed in different events, and Leet did not feel as comfortable there. At Florida, she found that the students were into partying too much for her taste. Kansas State, though, was very tempting. The problem there was their coach, Steve Miller, admitted to Leet that he would probably be taking a job at Nike, which he did, embarking on a highly successful nine-year tenure there. "I visited five different schools, got flavors for all of them, and I felt like NC State was the home for me," she summarized. There were just a few adjustments from New Jersey to North Carolina. The heat — she wished her freshman year dorm, Carroll Hall, had air conditioning, and the food — it took her time to adjust to the local cuisine. "I thought grits were oatmeal," she joked. In cross country and track, however, Leet fit right in during the golden era for women's cross country at NC State. As a freshman, she won the ACC individual cross country title. She was All-American in 1984, 1985 and 1987 by finishing among the top 10 in the NCAA Championships each time, and the Pack never finished lower than fourth in the team standings in her career, including second by one point in 1987. She was All- ACC all four years she competed (1984-85, 87-88). Lest added seven more All-America honors in indoor and outdoor track. While in college, Leet ran for Team USA at the 1987 World Cross Country Champion- ships. She finished 23rd and scored valuable points in what would be the last team title that the country has won. Her athletic success didn't surprise her. "I knew athletically I belonged —there was not a question in my mind," she noted. "Academically, that was a tough story for me." Leet was diagnosed with dyslexia, a learn- ing impairment, in the second grade. Grow- ing up she struggled with it enough that she spent time at a special school for help. "Running came easy for me," she said. "I had no confidence in the classroom, but I had complete confidence on the track." Yet with the help of NC State, Leet and the school found effective learning tech- niques, among them getting her books on tape, and when she graduated, she did so cum laude. "I never did an honor roll in my life before that," she noted. "If you had to ask me my biggest accomplishment, to graduate cum laude was a huge success for me because that was nothing I've ever experienced." Janet (Smith) Leet Women's Cross Country/ Track (1984-88) Age: 50 Living: Arlington Heights, Ill. Occupation: Owner of Sub5 Dynamic Running and Movement Specialists and Sub5 Girls Running Camp Did you know? Smith was named to the ACC's 50th Anniversary Women's Cross Country Team. ? WHERE ARE THEY NOW BORN TO RUN From A National Sensation At A New Jersey High School To An All-American At NC State Leet won the ACC cross country title as a freshman at NC State, and earned three All- America accolades in cross country plus seven in indoor and outdoor track. PHOTO COURTESY NC STATE MEDIA RELATIONS

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