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Cannon Leavitt - Male Cross Country Athlete of the Year

Twin Falls' Cannon Leavitt, the Times-News' boys cross country runner of the year, poses for photos Tuesday, Nov. 28, 2017, at Twin Falls High School.

Cannon Leavitt began his runner of the year campaign by missing the first handful of his team’s races. He was unsure if he’d run at all during cross country season.

Leavitt, a Twin Falls High School senior, injured his right knee last spring during track season. He continued to train leading up to the 2017 cross country season, but the pain didn’t go away. And he couldn’t figure out what was wrong.

After a bunch of visits to various doctors, Leavitt saw a running specialist in Colorado. The specialist discovered that Leavitt’s right leg was a couple of centimeters longer than his left, and the disparity was causing stress in his right knee. He put an insert in his left shoe to solve the problem.

Leavitt returned in late September, and his first organized race was the Bob Firman Invitational in Boise. He finished 55th in the 208-runner boys field. Considering his injury and rust, Leavitt was pleased with the result.

Five days later, Leavitt placed first at the Dani Bates Invitational. He won two of his next three races, including his second straight Great Basin Conference title. He finished second in the other race.

But his best race of the season, of his career, was his last.

At that point in his career, Leavitt had never broken 16 minutes in a 5,000-meter cross country race. His personal-best time up to that point was 16:07.1, and his season-best was 16:11.8.

Something came over Leavitt at the 4A state championship meet on Oct. 28. He easily surpassed his previous record, and he easily broke 16 minutes. His time of 15:56.2 gave him a third-place state finish and a dream end to his high school career.

Twin Falls outgoing head cross country coach Marty Grindstaff thinks the injury might have helped Leavitt excel at state. Instead of putting stress on his legs in August, Leavitt was resting, so he was relatively fresh by October.

Injury or not, Grindstaff wasn’t surprised by Leavitt’s performance this year.

“He’s got a lot of talent and trains really hard, not only during practice, but he runs a lot on his own, too,” Grindstaff said. “He blossomed. He’s been our No. 1 runner for three consecutive years.”

Leavitt was average, at best, when he entered high school. Two years after picking up cross country and track, Leavitt was still unsure he liked running, even though they were his only sports and his dad ran at Jerome High School.

“I was pretty slow and wasn’t really into it,” Leavitt said. “I liked being on the team, but I wouldn’t say I was a runner.”

Leavitt’s best time as a freshman was 19:28, and he finished 47th at the district meet. That’s when a switch flipped.

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He wanted to get better, so he sought out Reed Harris. The running coach gave Leavitt a strict training plan, and it paid off. He had a successful freshman track season, and he shaved more than two minutes off his personal best cross country time. His worst time as a sophomore was 18:28, and he finished second at the district meet.

As a junior, Leavitt ran almost exclusively in the 16’s, and he finally broke the 16-minute mark as a senior.

“I never would’ve imagined that I would run what I’ve run now,” he said.

Right now, Leavitt runs seven days a week — partially to train for track season, partially because running is just what he does. He hopes to run in college, although he doesn’t have a destination lined up just yet.

Leavitt always wishes he had performed better in his high school career. He wanted to run a 15:30 and take first place at state, and he fell short.

But overall, he’s satisfied. He achieved a runner of the year performance in a season that almost wasn’t.


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