The next path she hops on promises challenges.
Not that Melissa Manetsch hasn't already negotiated and conquered all kinds, and not just while wearing running sneakers or track cleats. She has a course strategy, and it doesn't include running.
Manetsch graduated from Libertyville last month after a senior year that included her earning all-state honors in both cross country and track, despite being diagnosed with a stomach infection last August.
She will attend Illinois, where she will focus on being a student, while also participating in trombone choir. She says she turned down "almost a full ride" from the Illini to compete cross country and track.
"I want to go into medicine in the long run," said the long distance runner, who's the Daily Herald Lake County female athlete of the year. "I would like to do a lot of research. I want to continue to play my trombone."
She plans to major in chemical engineering.
"In middle school I was really into (Illinois) Science Olympiad, and I loved that," Manetsch said. "But in high school, especially with athletics, I didn't have the mental and physical stamina to be able to do that."
The fact that she had any stamina, especially considering she qualified to run downstate three times in track and twice in cross country, was amazing. Since seventh grade, she says, she has had stomach issues. It wasn't until the start of her senior year that she was diagnosed with "C. diff.," short for clostridium difficile, a bacterium that can cause symptoms ranging from diarrhea to life-threatening inflammation of the colon.
"The whole fall I couldn't eat any grains, dairy, raw vegetables, no beans, no whole nuts," said Manetsch, who kept running races and producing sweet music with her trombone, which she started playing in fourth grade. "I was on heavy antibiotics to get rid of it. I'm still not totally healed, and running doesn't help it. Running puts a ton of extra strain on it. It attacked my liver and messed up my hormones. And obviously that affects your mood and your anxiety levels."
And yet, she excelled in her two sports, while also earning academic all-state honors. She finished eighth (16:44) in the Class 3A state cross country meet at Detweiller Park in Peoria last fall. She wrapped up her prep career last month by earning the fifth-place state medal in the Class 3A 3,200-meter run (personal-best 10:39.87) at O'Brien Field in Charleston.
"Looking back, I don't know how that happened," Manetsch said with a laugh of her cross country and track success, considering her health issues.
She feels both blessed and grateful on many levels. The runner is setting her course, one that will present more challenges than any two- or three-mile race. She is fueled for a long run, which might include her doing an MD/Ph.D. program.
"Essentially, you would end up working as an academic physician," said Manetsch, adding it would allow her to see patients while also having the freedom to do research.
Recently, she spent time shadowing several different doctors in Missouri, where a family friend is a doctor and works at a private practice. She witnessed hand and clavicle surgeries.
One of the doctors she shadowed was an oncologist.
"It was absolutely amazing just how he was able to care for these people," Manetsch said. "I'm almost choked up talking about it."
She gets emotional too when talking about the many who have supported her along her journey. She scored a 35 on her ACT, popped out a 1570 on her SAT and considers herself a self-starter. But there have been people who have made the runner's stellar strides possible -- family, friends, teammates, head coaches Bill Etnyre (cross country) and Tom Bizosky (track), distance coach Alison Reifenberg.
"A lot of support from a lot of people," said Manetsch, the youngest of two daughters of Scott and Cathy. "I'm sure my teammates thought I was going crazy. For four years, when I was constantly complaining about all this stuff (health issues), they put up with me. They listened to me. If I had not had the environment that I did, I could not have done what I did."
She will keep running, just not with a number pinned to her racing top. And she might discover she has more stamina than ever.
"I've been feeling burned out, to be honest, even though I've been performing well," Manetsch said. "I just want to feel free. I think my parents saw that. I'm not going to excel if I'm constantly feeling like I'm strapped to (competitive running)."
Her run is over. A different one is just starting.