It started with a bet.
When Mountain View High School freshman cross-country runner Lexy Halladay was in the fifth grade, her father, Scot, came up with an intriguing deal. He told his young daughter if she beat the school record mile time of 5:30, he would give her a cool, crisp $50 bill.
In jeans, basketball shoes and with no prior running experience whatsoever, she missed the time by a second.
“Even though I was really frustrated that I didn’t get it, I still thought I was super fast,” Halladay said. “That’s when I really realized I wanted to do this.”
Now the 15-year-old is one of the best runners in the country.
On Saturday, she’ll look to add national champion to her long list of accomplishments at the NXN Nike Cross Nationals in Portland, Oregon. And this time around, it would be unwise to bet against her.
“She is honestly just one of the greatest competitors you’ll ever meet,” sophomore Adelynn Rosin said. “She works hard and brings the whole team together. She is one of the greatest people ever.”
Since entering her first competition in the sixth grade, Halladay has been nearly unbeatable.
As an eighth-grader competing for Lake Hazel Middle School in Boise, she ran the mile in 4:46:47. For comparison, had Halladay been eligible to run at last season’s 5A state track and field championships, she would have won the state title by over 7 seconds. That time was also the best in the country among eighth-graders.
Other notable accolades for Halladay that year include placing 10th at the New Balance Nationals Indoor track and field meet in New York, along with claiming titles at the Simplot Games and the Junior Olympics.
“Lexy is a once-in-a-lifetime talent,” Mountain View cross-country coach Tracy Harris said. “She obviously has a lot of natural talent and is ultra competitive, which is something you just can’t teach.”
Upon entering high school this season, Halladay showed no signs of slowing down. She won her first four races of the cross-country season by an average of 26.5 seconds. Included in that was a first-place showing at the Roy Griak Invite in Minnesota.
In fact, the only thing that slowed Halladay down this season was her own body. Due to the side effects of battling the flu, Halladay collapsed approximately 800 meters from the finish line while competing against Boise’s Eve Jensen at the 5A District III Championships in October. She had to be taken to the hospital in an ambulance.
“Before I fell, I was almost walking because my body was quickly giving out on me,” Halladay said. “It was scary because I couldn’t move, and I really didn’t know what happened. I do know I was very mad that I couldn’t finish the race.”
But even that only slowed Halladay for a short time. A week later at the 5A State Championships, she lapped the field, beating Jensen by over 11 seconds to reclaim her place at the top of the sport.
“It was definitely relieving just to redeem myself,” Halladay said. “When I fell, everyone thought Eve was the fastest. So when I crossed the finish line I was like, ‘ha.’”
Following a standout freshman high school season, Halladay quickly turned her attention to the national stage.
At the Nike Cross Regionals Northwest meet on Nov. 12, she ran a personal best time of 17:26, which is the 53rd fastest time in the nation. Despite beating her previous personal record by 13 seconds, Halladay finished second, four seconds behind winner Annie Hill of Montana, who won the race for the second consecutive year.
“I honestly didn’t think I was going to go that fast. So I was super happy with my time and how I ran overall,” Halladay said. “While I hate losing, I wasn’t too mad that I lost because I knew who Annie was and who everyone there was and that they would all be really tough competition.”
The finish qualified Halladay for Saturday’s nationals and gives her a chance to make history. If she finishes better than 22nd, Halladay will go down in the record books as the highest finisher ever from the state of Idaho. Former Mountain View girls cross country runner Sam McKinnon placed 22nd in 2013.
“This race is for the best of the best, and she’s one of them,” Harris said. “I would be super impressed if she finished in the top 10. But she’s honestly good enough to win the whole thing.”
But no matter what happens Saturday, Halladay has plenty of other races left in her young career. With what she’s already achieved, it’s a safe bet the best is still to come.
Her father won’t make any other bets with her.
“I certainly learned my lesson,” Scot said, laughing.