Standing on the starting line before the 2012 Mid-Suburban League championships, Barrington's Lauren Conroy looked just like any of the other 80 or so girls that would be competing in the 3-mile race.
With her scarlet top and black shorts, Conroy didn't particularly stand out as a steady rain pelted the Busse Woods course.
But that all changed within a matter of 17-plus minutes as Conroy persevered under the less-than-ideal conditions.
She answered the challenges thrown at her by Schaumburg's Caroline Kurdej, Buffalo Grove's Kaitlyn Ko, and Palatine's Tess Wasowicz, pulling away in the final 200 meters to secure the MSL title, becoming only the second Barrington runner to win a conference crown.
And she was only a freshman.
"That was a total shock," said Barrington coach Debbie Revolta who has seen a lot in 23 years as Fillies head coach. "I thought she could be one of the top five. Of course, when you get to that level it's who has it on that day.
"Yeah it was a little bit surprising -- but a good surprise."
Conroy has a way of surprising a lot of people. She went on to make all-state, finishing 19th at the Class 3A state meet at Detweiller Park in Peoria.
And as talented as she is at running, Conroy is also a gifted musician. Conroy plays violin for the Chicago Youth Symphony Orchestra having performed at Orchestra Hall and at Millennium Park.
She has also played many solo violin recitals and concerts, including winning the Elgin Youth Symphony Orchestra's Young Artist Concerto Competition with the Kabalevsky Violin Concerto in 2012. She also performed with the Barrington High School Chamber Orchestra in April 2013.
Conroy has been playing violin since she was five and is studying with Hye-Sun Lee of the Music Institute of Chicago. Conroy is also an accomplished pianist and is in her eighth year of studying piano at the Bel Canto Studios in Barrington.
And to top it off she's a straight A student and also a member of the Bataille Ballet Company.
Needless to say, she is not your typical high school student.
"I guess it's not normal," said Conroy when considering her full schedule and accomplishments. "I've made some sacrifices, but I love it. It's hard work, but I enjoy the hard work."
Her success on the cross country course last fall had a lot of people turning their heads. She started out with a solid regular season, taking 19th at the First to the Finish race in a tough field in Peoria; she followed it up with a seventh-place finish at the Palatine Invite and a first-place finish at the Wheeling Invite.
But it was the way she handled the pressures of the postseason that had people shaking their heads.
"She just doesn't seem too get rattled," said Revolta of her poise. "She is able to put things in perspective very well for a young person. She has a lot of experience with being as good as she is with the violin, being in major performances, and that helps."
Conroy agreed that performing has helped her with her running, admitting there are many similarities between musical performances and the racing.
"They are alike," said Conroy. "They both take more focus than you think, and you have to be prepared. When you're performing at a concert or in a race you need to be mentally focused."
It also helped that Barrington had strong leaders, including 2012 seniors Rebecca Batliner and Rachel Simon, along with current senior Caroline Reynolds, to help ease Conroy's transition.
"We knew she had a lot of talent," said Reynolds, who finished 30th in Class 3A last season and will combine with Conroy to push the Fillies' attack this season. "We work together through races and I'm hoping to stick as close to her as I can."
"They had a big impact," said Conroy of her teammates' support. "Especially having Caroline back. If one of us is hurting the last mile we stick together to the end, we're going to help each other finish."
Conroy is the top returning MSL runner from last year's state meet, and once again will be one of the favorites to win conference and contend for all-state honors.
It won't be easy, especially with a slew of top runners returning including MSL runners Kurdej, Ko, Palatine senior Jess Lincoln, Schaumburg juniors Ali Gutt and Erin Falsey, and Hoffman Estate sophomore Meagan Biddle.
But Conroy has never shied away from competition or hard work.
"She makes it simple, she just goes out and runs," said Revolta, "She's like a gazelle, she has long legs, a beautiful stride, and she can just keep going … she's a beautiful runner to watch."
Not much has changed for the Fillies sophomore since her breakout freshman year. She has added a few inches in height, and is a bit more confident, but she is still as busy as ever.
She is currently working on the Mendelssohn Violin Concerto in e Minor; she has completed an original piano composition and is working on a second composition. She has added an AP chemistry course, and she has partnered with her friend Sigrid Neptun in creating Feets of Strength, which is a 5K run/2K walk on Oct. 20 which will support Barrington's LEADS (Leaders Engaged Against Drugs).
And oh yeah, she's also preparing for another grinding cross country season.
As for an encore?
"I want to do it again," said Conroy, "and keep getting better."