Women's senior runner Lena Lebrun's journey to the States hasn't been the smooth-sailing expedition from France she expected. But, she still has her eyes on the Olympic goals she set for herself.
"She has a two-year plan that we're working on, and this is the beginning of it, and she's in a fantastic spot," said ASU cross country and distance track coach Ryan Ray. "I'm really excited for her."
The two-year plan extends into summer 2024 after she finishes her fifth year at ASU when she hopes to compete in the Summer Olympics in Paris for her country running the steeplechase event, a long-distance race that requires runners to hurdle over barriers and run through water.
"The Olympics is every athlete's dream," Lebrun said. "It's always been something I'm looking out for, but there is still a ton of work if I want to get there."
Her freshman campaign was an adjustment period with new training routines, classes and learning English. Then the COVID-19 pandemic shut down the end of the track and field season.
In her sophomore year, Lebrun ran through an injury in the Pac-12 championship which cost her a shot at regionals and nationals after re-aggravating it.
"Me not running made me really, really sad," Lebrun said. "I realized I actually just loved running. I just like being fast and I love being competitive too."
In her junior season last year, Lebrun had her best year to that point with personal records in the 6,000-meter at the Pac-12 championships with a time of 21:26.0, in the 800-meter with a time of 2:12.63 and the mile with a time of 4:51.82.
"I think she can do incredible things if she's healthy," senior runner and roommate Caitlin Rose said. "She was healthy for most of the season last year, and you could see already how crazy she's progressing. I think if she can just stay that way she can score in the top 5 in Pac-12s and qualify for nationals at regionals."
Unfortunately, COVID-19 struck again and Lebrun fell sick before the regional competition after her record in the 6K.
"Regionals have not been a lucky track meet for me," Lebrun said. "I'm really trying to make nationals this year."
Overcoming obstacles isn't anything unfamiliar for Lebrun. She grew up in the small town of Montbrison, France made up of hills and only one 250-meter track she and her seven teammates used.
Lebrun's parents, Fred and Cathy, signed her up for cross country when she was just six and since then, Lebrun's runner's high hasn't worn off. She tried gymnastics and swimming as a child, but Lebrun just wanted to run.
"For gymnastics, when we would warm up they would make us run and they'd be calling me out, 'You don't have to run that fast to warm up,'" Lebrun said. "And I was like, 'OK, well, I'm gonna quit.'"
Despite competing in track and field in middle school, it wasn't until her sophomore year of high school that Lebrun's middle school coach told her to start taking the sport seriously. Then Lebrun ran her way to the French 18U record in the steeplechase and a European championship in the 3K.
After high school, Lebrun thought about running for a club team in Paris but loved the weather and environment in Tempe. After ASU, the educational studies major plans to teach English and French in different countries all over the world.
So far, Lebrun is off to a hot start after the first two distance meets. She placed first among Sun Devils and 16th overall at the UC Riverside Invitation on Sept. 17 and took a ninth-place finish at the Dave Murray Invitational on Sept. 30.
Ray is banking that his best women's distance runner will carry her momentum into the track season as well.
"For me, my goal for her is really track where she can have a breakthrough season and make the NCAA finals," Ray said.
Lebrun's goal for the remainder of the season is to finish in the top-20 at the Pac-12 Championship on Oct. 28 and begin training for track season, where her passion really falls.
Lebrun is expected to shine in the steeplechase event, according to Ray.
"That's her race, she's ready and primed. Girls she beat in high school are now at the professional level, and she's had some setbacks, but now she's ready to start getting towards that level."
Edited by Kathryn Field, Piper Hansen, David Rodish and Luke Chatham.