When Friends cross country coach Matt Kennedy talks about formulating a plan for senior Sara Wiebe, it has nothing to do with her running.
Wiebe has struggled with drug and alcohol addiction since she was a senior at Northwest High. Late this summer, she reached a personal low.
"I just realized that I needed help and guidance from someone," she said, "and that's when I turned to my coach about it."
Wiebe sends frequent text messages to Kennedy to inform him of her well being. When one weekend in September went by without any contact, Kennedy knew something was wrong.
Wiebe called the following Monday and the two came up with a plan to get her refocused on running and back on track in life.
"And that included going to a couple (Alcoholics Anonymous) meetings," Kennedy said. "I went to one with her, and she went to a couple on her own. That's probably a moment where she really understood that there were people who cared about her and wanted her to be successful."
The plan, which Wiebe calls an intervention, involved Wiebe's parents and included a curfew.
"I knew this was all just to help me get back into a good routine and living a healthy lifestyle and it wasn't anything against my will," Wiebe said. "I agreed to all of this so I could have support from a lot of people."
The September setback appears to be only a small hitch in Wiebe's recovery. She has been more dedicated to running this season than in any previous one at Hutchinson Community College or Friends and has seen her times drop significantly.
Wiebe, also a standout high jumper on the Falcon track team, says she hasn't consumed alcohol since that weekend last month. She'll run in the KCAC meet at Lake Afton on Saturday.
"The better she does, she just raises the bar for herself," Kennedy said. "Back in the summer, she showed up late for a workout but we were just pleased that she was there. Now, she's always on time and always enthusiastic and other people feed off that. Now, when she's late she gets in trouble. A bad week now might be 100 times better than a bad week in February when I first got here."
Wiebe said she never previously enjoyed cross country because her natural talents made the sport feel like a chore.
Her path to sobriety and the presence of Kennedy and first-year men's coach Brad Peterson have helped Wiebe find enjoyment.
Wiebe's enthusiasm shows in her times this season — she has shattered her personal best in the mile and 5,000 meters. She helped the Falcons to their first NAIA top 25 ranking earlier this season.
"It's something like I felt like I had in me," Wiebe said. "I had it in me, I just needed support and direction. I'm not just running for myself, I'm running for the team and the coaches. Sure, it's surprising."
Wiebe recently graduated with a degree in psychology and is working toward a Master's degree. She competed unattached — the equivalent of a redshirt — in track and field last season so she could train under Kennedy and be an official member of the Falcons in the spring.
She calls high jumping her true athletic love, so the anticipation of her improving there like she did in cross country is high.
"She had a very big scholarship to run here at Friends," Kennedy said. "She's on this big scholarship, but she was skipping practices frequently, showing up late and didn't like it. She was not having fun.
"Now, she's not on scholarship as a graduate student, and she's always at practice and hates it when she misses. The fact that she got so much better so quickly is amazing."