More than genes: How 2 Lincoln High siblings became elite runners
LINCOLN — Lincoln High siblings Brenden and Becca Heitzig always like a challenge.
That’s why they like cross country so much.
Brenden, a junior, and Becca, a sophomore, are among the top runners in the Springfield area.
At the 3-mile Apollo Conference meet in Effingham on Tuesday, Oct. 12, Brenden went runner-up on the boys side with a time of 15 minutes, 50.6 seconds while Becca won the girls conference title in 18:04.9.
“I like winning, so if there’s a chance I can win in something, I’m going to do it,” Becca said. “But cross country is interesting, it really pushes me to my limits, so I like the challenge.”
NOT JUST FAMILY GENES
Brenden and Becca started young.
They participated in 5K road races with their dad, Tim, around third grade just for fun.
“When I was in third grade, I would get into a race with my dad and I would sprint for 100 meters and then I would walk until he caught up to me because I was super tired,” Brenden recalled. “Then I would sprint again and try to beat him.”
“He would never win now, though,” Becca said.
Andrew Hite first heard of Brenden just prior to becoming the high school's cross country coach in 2019.
“The previous coach said, ‘Hey, just so you know next fall, you’re going to have a pretty good runner — this kid named Brenden Heitzig,’” Hite said. “I said, ‘OK, bring him on.’”
And Brenden immediately jumped to the front of the pack as a freshman and has considerably improved over the last couple of seasons. Hite said Brenden’s best time as a freshman was 16:37. His personal best this season is 15:30. Becca has also slashed her personal best from 18:03 to 17:49.
That may stem from their family genes but also their work ethic, Hite said.
Brenden said he started running 20 miles a week as a freshman. He’s upped that training to 40 miles a week and hopes to do 50 miles as a senior.
Brenden never stops, Hite said.
“It’s hard with school,” Brenden said. “But during the summer, it’s so fun. I feel like I have so much time to just plan out my day and my runs.”
Becca doesn’t keep track of her miles because she’s too busy.
She simultaneously plays volleyball in the fall in addition to basketball in the winter. Both siblings run track during the spring.
Hite said Becca sometimes attends cross country practice before leaving early for volleyball and makes up for lost time on her own accord.
Becca said she can’t imagine missing either of the two.
“I can’t keep still because I’m used to being so active and being busy like this,” Becca said. “It keeps me sane being busy honestly. I’m used to it because in junior high I would have basketball and cross country at the same time.”
Will she keep it up through her senior year?
“I don’t know, it’s a lot to think about,” Becca said.
JONES AND MEISNER
The Heitzigs want to garner a state medal this year after COVID-19 shortened last year's postseason.
Brenden has something else in mind, too.
He wants to beat Lincoln graduate Blake Jones’ state finals time of 15:13. Last year, Jones became the first Illinois-Springfield runner to win the Great Lakes Valley Conference cross country title.
“He’s been my motivation ever since seventh grade in junior high because he used to train with me, help me and coach me up,” Brenden said of Jones. “He’s been a really great mentor. He knows that I really want to beat his times by this year — if not, then senior year.”
Jones is a local inspiration.
“He was one of the runners who I looked up to when I was younger because I would always see him excel, so I’m like, ‘Oh, I can excel like that someday,’” Becca said. “He was a role model to me and Brenden.”
Johnie Meisner, who was inducted to the Eastern Illinois University Athletics Hall of Fame in 2012, has also assisted with their training over the last several years.
“He’s helped me with my form a lot and he’s helped me with the mental toughness — to get mentally tougher in the race, which is really important,” Brenden said.
“He’s taught me so many incredible things,” Becca said. “I can’t even say. He’s toughened me up.”
Becca actually eclipsed mom’s track record from 1991 in the 800-meter dash last year.
She reached 2:13.9 in the Class 2A state finals and took second place as a freshman. She additionally has school records in the 1,600 (5:07) and 3,200 (11:24). Brenden helped set a 4x800 school record, as well.
“I know my mom gave me that speed and I love endurance,” Becca said. “And I like how it was just two laps and just give it all you got.”
It’s no wonder they welcome the fiercest competition.
For Becca, that includes Rochester junior Colleen Zeibert. Last year, Zeibert won the Class 2A Olney Richland County Sectional in 18:14.91. Becca was second in 18:23.90.
They will start the 2A Jacksonville Regional at 10 a.m. on Saturday. The boys race ensues at 11 a.m.
Becca described her relationship with Zeibert as friendly competition — not unlike her brother.
“We go back and forth,” Becca said of Zeibert. “She’s a great runner. It’s good to have a little competition like that in races. She pushes me, so it’s awesome. I love running with her.”
Contact Bill Welt: firstname.lastname@example.org, Twitter.com/BillWelt