OAKLAND -- More than 1,000 feet above the Bay Area into the Oakland Hills, Eleanor Wikstrom rolls through a recovery day with her Skyline High School track teammates. It's a low-stress day but Wikstrom and the small group of boys running with her are methodical and focused in their approach despite intermittent rain and less than ideal conditions.
There's both a consistency and a joy about her as she and those with her churn through lap after lap, first on the wet track and later on the outer edge of the synthetic field.
Wikstrom, a junior, has an easy smile with warming and confident brown eyes. Behind that welcoming demeanor is a 16-year-old beyond her years who knows where she's headed.
Sean Kohles, a leadership teacher, activities director and the head track coach at Skyline is asked what makes Wikstrom special?
"Athletically? Because I think my answer to that question would be everything she does outside of running," Kohles said. "She's heavily involved in (school clubs). She's got incredible academia. She's on top of family life and friend life. She's super empathetic to people around her. And then there's athletics.
"She's been our team captain for the last two years, which is super telling. You don't tend to bring a sophomore on as a team captain but it just speaks to her maturity and drive as an individual. That makes her a special athlete."
On the track, her focused event is the 1600 meters, where Wikstrom is the school and CIF-Oakland Section record-holder. But track in the tiny Oakland Section, and girls distance running in particular, is hardly on the radar in the distance-deep state of California. While she is the gold standard in the event in this section, her 5:05.25 PR hardly registers in a state where it took 4:52.99 just to make the top 12 advancing to the State Meet final out a of a preliminary meet where 16 girls -- more than half the field -- ran under five minutes. Wikstrom, who ranks as the No. 51 returner in CA in the 1600, was in the back of that field.
That's what makes Wikstrom's stated goal of qualifying for the State Meet final in the 1600 all the more intriguing. While the numbers on the surface don't appear to support her chances of achieving said goal, everything about what makes Wikstrom special does.
Kohles, as go-to a guy as there appears to be when it comes to Oakland Section track and cross country history, says no girl from the section has ever reached the 1600 final at the State Meet, which has been contested for girls since 1974.
Keep in mind that while the Oakland Section is the second smallest of the state's 10 sections, fewer than a handful of schools field full boys and girls track teams, making it by far the smallest. As a result, events at the section meet trials -- like the girls 1600 -- will be cut when the field is too small for a preliminary race. Last year there were only eight girls -- seven from Oakland Tech and Wikstrom -- who were all passed into the final.
It's that Oakland Tech team and the specific influence of now-senior Caroline Garrett whom Kohles attributes the current surge in girls distance running in the section. Garrett, a senior headed to Wake Forest, is the section record-holder in the 3200.
"Eleanor kind of got wrapped up in that and now she's racing those girls," he said.
But despite having the fastest two distance girls in the history of the Oakland Section intersecting for three years, competition in the section is limited and running out front in local races is hardly preparation for the competition on the line at State.