In the vernacular of the track and field athlete, the overriding thought process isn’t that you are competing against the other competitors in your event, rather, you are competing against yourself.
It’s a strategy that Raymond High School senior Karlee Freeman has implemented throughout her prep track and field career, and boy has it produced results.
The dynamic Freeman has racked up an impressive list of accomplishments that rivals any prep track athlete in the nation and earned her a full-ride scholarship to one of the country’s top programs at the University of Southern California.
Since she began to compete as a seventh-grader at Raymond Junior High School, Freeman has won five WIAA State Championships, two USA Track & Field Junior Olympic titles, holds multiple state records and was rated the No. 1 high school discus thrower entering this season.
And it all started with a bit of guidance from a very intuitive junior high coach.
Freeman had no intentions of becoming one of the elite prep discus throwers in the country. In fact, it wasn’t an event that was even on her radar when she went out for the track team in seventh grade.
“Coming into junior high, I wanted to do hurdles,” she said. “And I was really small, so I looked like a sprinter and probably would have stuck with sprints if it wasn’t for my mom.”
It was during a practice that season that Freeman’s exceptional gift in the discus throw was noticed.
“I think I was throwing like 70 or 80 (feet) and my mom said, ‘Wow! You are pretty good at this. You should stick with it.‘“Freeman said of a conversation she had with her junior high coach and mother, Briana.
By the end of her eighth-grade year, Raymond High School head coach Mike Tully told Freeman that if she competed at the USA Track & Field Junior Olympics, she could win it.
“She was throwing 130 feet as an eighth-grader. Her best throw as an eighth grader would have put her in the top two or three in state that year,” Tully said. “Seeing that she was one of the better junior high throwers in the country I thought she should go and see what she could do and compare herself against the best.”
Freeman did just that, travelling to Houston, Texas the summer before her freshman year to compete at the USATF Junior Olympics.
Freeman was understandably overwhelmed in the early going of her first major meet, and a few sub-par marks were the result.
“After the first couple of throws I thought, ‘I came all this way not to throw very well,’” she said. But the girl who is admittedly her own worst critic, found her form and did what would become a hallmark of her career: Beat your personal best.
“I think I PR’d there or came close to it,” Freeman said of a 130-plus throw that won her the junior national title. “It was crazy. I was just so young I thought, ‘Wow! I could actually be pretty good at this event.’”
Pretty good turned out to be a gigantic understatement. Freeman won back-to-back 2B discus state titles in her freshman and sophomore years and was catching the attention of the broader track community with disaster struck, causing the future of an incredibly promising career to be in question.
Freeman is not just a standout track and field star, she is a multi-sport athlete that has also excelled on the volleyball and basketball courts.
It was on the hardwood two summers ago that Freeman suffered an injury that has ended careers and put her athletic future in jeopardy.
“There was like three minutes left in the basketball game, we’re winning, and I just dribbled into the key and did a jump stop and my knee just buckled,” Freeman said. “I heard two loud pops and went straight to the ground. … I grabbed my knee and it swelled up in (a bent) position and I couldn’t straighten it out.”
The initial prognosis was not what Freeman, her parents and coaches were hoping for.
“I was hoping it was something serious but I knew it would be pretty big just because of how it hurt and felt,” Freeman said.
The results: Torn ACL, torn meniscus, sprained MCL in her right knee.
All this a little over a month after winning 2B state titles in the discus and 100-meter hurdles as a sophomore.
Though Freeman had her doubts following the injury, she never once thought she wouldn’t be out on the track again.
“I knew I would be able to come back, I just didn’t know if I’d be able to throw as far as I could before or compete as fast as I had before,” she said. “I was just praying that it would be fine and I’d be back to 100 percent.”
Freeman had reconstructive surgery at the end of June that year. Then began a recovery process that took over nine months of physical training and doctor’s visits, a process she described as “horrible.”
“I couldn’t do anything and I wanted to do so much more than they would allow me to do,” Freeman said of the experience, which she added helped her to learn to be more patient. “I just had to hold myself back and have self-control and not go out and re-injure it. That was hard. … My parents had to keep me away from the gym as much as possible.”
After nine months, doctors cleared Freeman to resume full physical activity, meaning she would be able to compete for the track team her junior season.
“It felt like it took forever,” she said. “It was so long.”
Competing in the shot put, discus, javelin and hurdles at the sub-district meet in her first season back, disaster nearly struck again.
“I tweaked my knee in the javelin, but I thought I was fine because right after that I went and threw the shot put and (my knee) didn’t hurt at all,” she said. “At districts, I heard it pop again and I had trouble walking after that..
Re-injuring her knee meant Freeman couldn’t compete for her second state title in the hurdles and put into doubt how she would perform in the throwing events.
But Freeman persevered and won her third straight 2B discus state championship to go along with a state shot put title a week later. She said the titles in her junior year vindicated all the struggles presented by the injuries.
“It felt like all the hard work for the past nine months like it’s finally all coming back together again.”
Currently, Freeman is ranked by USATF as the top returning prep discus thrower in the nation and she holds the third-best throw in the country this season, a massive 173 foot, three-inch throw at the Chehalis Activators Invitational on April 21. At the time it was the best mark in the nation.
Last summer, Freeman made a return to the Junior Olympics and shattered the record books, throwing a length of 171-04 to win the national title and etching her name in the Washington state record books for best throw by a junior by more than 10 feet. She now holds the state record for best throws by a freshman, sophomore and junior.
Like many great athletes, Freeman acknowledged she couldn’t do it alone. A support system that includes Tully, her throwing coach Shaun Straka and parents Phil and Briana, to name a few, have been instrumental in Freeman turning potential into results, both on and off the field.
“In track, everything you do is on you,” Freeman said. “It’s an individual sport, so everything you do, you do it for yourself. You are either going to get better or not and that’s the same in life. If you put in the work for anything, you are going to get better and going to get what you want. You just have to put in the work and want it.”
Freeman’s toughest competitor is herself, and that’s not bad competition to have when you are a multi-state and national champion. It’s one of the reasons why she is leaving behind a legacy of one of the greatest prep track and field athletes that not just the region, but the state has ever seen.
“I’ve looked at the list of girls that have come through the state of Washington and you have girls that have won NCAA titles in the discus. You have girls that have come from Washington that have won US titles and gone to the Olympics, and she’s thrown farther than all those girls in high school,” Tully said. “It’s not out of the realm of possibility that she can be a 200-plus thrower in college. … So I can definitely see her competing for NCAA titles and at US Nationals if she keeps working hard and improving her technique.”
So it’s likely we are to hear more from Freeman after her high school playing days are over and she is off to compete for the USC Trojans, where she has a good chance to add an NCAA title to an already impressive trophy case.