Rising star: Danville's Garbutt is area's top girls' runner

Rising star: Danville's Garbutt is area's top girls' runner

DANVILLE — Three years ago, the athlete who would become one of the most talented girls' cross-country runners in Danville history arrived in the parking lot of Danville High School for her first-ever run along with her three sisters.

The tiny freshman, though, decided that's where her cross-country career would end.

She wouldn't get out of the car.

"I didn't want to do it at all," Shanice Garbutt said.

The runner Garbutt would become and the one she was three years ago seem completely incongruous.

In 2017, Garbutt burst onto the state running scene. After finishing seventh in the Class 3A 3,200-meter race last spring during the track and field season, she took third at the 2A cross country meet in early November, signed with Illinois a little more than a week later and subsequently was named The News-Gazette's All-Area Runner of the Year.

Just as stark as her unbelievable drop in time, though, is her change in attitude.

"No one I've had has ever been this bought in," Danville coach Todd Orvis said. "I don't know how else to explain it. Everything she does in her daily routine as far as running goes, everything is as best as she can do. That's how she does everything. Her drills, her workouts, her post-run drills, stretches, icing, it's just unlike anybody we've ever had."

Starting off slow

None of it would have happened, though, had Garbutt not finally cracked open the door of her aunt's car and gone for that first run, as slow as it may have been as she started and stopped.

"I stopped like three times, barely making it down a whole sidewalk, then I'd stop," Shanice said. "Then when I would see my sister coming back from her run, I'd start running again so she wouldn't see that I stopped.

"I didn't really like the sport and I didn't want to be there. But I had to realize that I had to suck it up. I was around my sisters, though, so that made it better."

Orvis didn't realize Garbutt had the talent or the will to be a varsity runner that day or even that year.

In fact, he thought she'd quit in the first few days.

But Deneisha Garbutt, who brought Shanice to that first practice, saw an indication late that first year that her younger sister was growing in an attachment to the sport.

It was a late-season meet, and Deneisha, who would go on to run for Danville Area Community College, was slowed by an injury and struggling. As Deneisha approached the finish line, Shanice caught her sister.

Instead of running past her sister, though, Shanice grabbed Deneisha's hand.

"She said, 'We're going to finish together,'" Deneisha recalled of her younger sister's message. "It made me feel like she really wanted this."

Finding her groove

As a sophomore, Shanice Garbutt broke into the area's legion of quality runners, finishing the season with a top time of 19 minutes and 47 seconds to earn All-Area honorable mention accolades.

The following year, she qualified for state with a sectional time of 18:06 before running nearly a minute slower a week later for a disappointing 96th-place finish.

That track season, Shanice finally burst into the state's elite.

After rarely running over 800 meters during her first two years of high school, Orvis entered Garbutt into the 3,200 early in the season.

She thrived in the new race, and by the end of the year, she finished seventh in 3A with a time of 10:48.

"If you can compete with the best in 3A," Orvis said, "I knew that there was really nobody in 2A that she couldn't run with."

That season drew the attention of the Illinois coaching staff, who wound up offering her a scholarship in the fall, which she eagerly accepted.

"Knowing that I'm going to a school that I've always wanted to go to and it's happening for me, it makes me feel really good about myself," she said, "and I want to continue to get better at what I do."

'This has changed my life'

The big picture didn't enter Orvis's mind at the state meet as he watched Garbutt — who came into the meet with the fastest time in 2A — trail several yards behind first-place Jenna Schwartz of Waterloo throughout the entire race.

"Obviously I can't do anything for her at that point to help her other than yell at her," Orvis said. "I'm thinking, 'We've got a chance to win this race. What can we do to win this race?'"

Garbutt came running into the race's final stretch in second place with around 10 yards of space between her and third-place runner Campbell Petersen of Dunlap.

Petersen, though, put on a kick and edged Garbutt out for the runner-up finish.

"I kind of stopped at the (finish line), and the girl came running right past me," Garbutt said. "I told myself, 'Don't do that anymore. When you get there, you run straight through it. You don't stop.' I usually do that. But at state, I don't know why, I was thinking, 'The race is done.' I felt like I was already there."

That a third-place finish at the state meet is disappointing in any manner would have seemed ludicrous just a few years ago — just as the fact that she'll come home and speak glowingly to her sister about how much she ran that day would have seemed unimaginable.

"She'll have a big smile on her face," Deneisha said, "and she'll say how many miles he gave her to run."

Orvis has a theory that the sport of running changes kids, making the other parts of their lives fall into place.

For Shanice Garbutt, that certainly was the case. A kid who routinely found herself in trouble in school and in her high school career completely turned herself around.

"This sport really changed my personality," she said. "I don't get into trouble anymore, I don't get any more referrals. This has changed my life so much."

And she's far from done improving.

"I'm motivated to keep pushing myself, because I have more and more opportunities coming my way," Garbutt said. "This cross-country season showed me that I've got so much left in the box, that something's going to come out this year in track season.

"Whether it's the two-mile, the mile or the 800, something's going to happen this year. I've got a lot left."