National champion runner
Redemption has been the story of the year for Heather Garcia, as she won the Class 4A state cross-country title in October. But, this time it was on the national level.
After a disappointing race in Kenosha, Wisc, on Nov. 25, the Baldwin High School junior wanted to prove something the next week in Orlando, Fla.
"Oh, yeah, this was big just to prove to myself," Garcia said. "I tried not to think about everything that happened in the past."
BHS cross country coach Mike Spielman knew she would bounce back.
"I think she just had some things go wrong with her body that day that didn't let her finish the race," Spielman said. "Once she got back on track again, it didn't hurt her at all. The nice thing is it will leave a good taste in her mouth. She ended on a good note."
On Thanksgiving Day, Garcia traveled to Wisconsin to compete in the prestigious Foot Locker Cross Country Championships. Only the top 10 runners from each of the four regionals qualify for the national race.
About one mile into the race, Garcia collapsed on the course. She was taken to the medical tent, where she recovered. Spielman said it was tough to watch as her coach.
"It's hard anytime a kid doesn't finish the race," Spielman said. "What's hard is the disappointment they had. She had some really high goals and it's was hard for her."
Although extremely disappointed, Garcia was not deterred from redeeming herself on the national level. So, on Dec. 2, Garcia went on and did exactly that.
She won the Amateur Athletic Union Cross Country Championships 17-18-year-old age group 5-kilometer race in a time of 17:54 in Florida.
"There was a lot of motivation, because I wanted to see how good I could do at this one since I didn't get the other chance," Garcia said.
She finished 22 seconds ahead of the second-place runner Laura Roxberg, from Blue Valley High School. Finishing third was Brittney Graff of Eudora High School.
All three girls were running for the Brocaw Blazers club team. Garcia said that made the race less stressful.
After taking the lead in the final mile, Garcia said she tried to widen the gap between her and Roxberg. When running down the homestretch, several thoughts were flying through her mind.
"I don't know, I just wanted to finish and see what my time was," she said. "They were announcing my name, so that was really cool. I didn't know how far behind second place was and I wanted to make the biggest difference I could."
The time of 17:54 shocked Garcia, because she didn't run very hard at the qualifying race in Garnett on Nov. 4.
"I had no idea what I was capable of, because I only ran one other time to qualify," Garcia said. "Considering there I ran a 19:30, so it was a big difference. I didn't really know what to expect."
Bulldog pack competes
After the race, Garcia stood atop the awards stand and collected her medal. She wasn't the only Baldwin athlete competing that day for the Brocaw team.
BHS senior Chris Elniff, BHS junior Madison Shoemaker, Baldwin Junior High School seventh grader Brian Wright and BJHS sixth grader Kaitlyn Barnes also competed at the AAU meet.
Garcia was glad one of her good friends, Shoemaker, was with her in Florida, although Shoemaker competed in the 15-16-year-old race.
"Even though she wasn't in our race, it helped having her there," Garcia said of Shoemaker. "Chris was also there, so it was good to have support from them also. It was cool to watch them run."
Elniff enjoyed his first AAU experience, especially since he had teammates joined him on the trip.
"It was nice to have some people there that you know," Elniff said. "We could help each other both with race anxiety and meeting new friends. Maddie got the shaft because she had to ride on the 15-16-year-old bus, which was funny. Heather and I sat pretty close and talked a lot. It was nice to get to know her even more."
Elniff also competed well, placing 32nd with a time of 16:21.
"It was good and I ran a PR time," Elniff said. "It was a flat course, so it was fast. It was hotter than I expected. There was this one part back in the trees and it stopped some of the breeze and the humidity got to us. That part of the course was slow, but overall it was a pretty fast course."
The time of 16:21 was a personal best for Elniff, who placed second at the state meet in Wamego. Because of course changes this year, the boys' race was much slower than years past. Elniff said the AAU race capped off a great senior season for him.
"It felt good to get a PR because I wasn't able to pull a PR time at state like I usually do," Elniff said. "It was nice to finish my career with a record time and end on a high note."
Shoemaker competed in the 15-16-year-old age group, which also ran a 5K race. She finished 70th out of 126 runners in a time of 21:24.
Wright competed in the Sub Youth Boys (13-year-old age group) race and placed 21st out of 177 runners in a time of 15:01.12. Barnes competed in the Midget Girls (11-year-old age group) 3K race and placed 15th out of 175 runners in a time of 11:40.69.
"All of the kids did a really nice job of representing Baldwin," Spielman said. "They all ran some really good races and each of them got the chance to bring home some medals, which is a nice deal for them."
Although the races were the primary reason for the trip, the Baldwin runners also enjoyed other parts of the experience.
"The trip was great," Elniff said. "I got to meet a whole lot of new people and met a lot of new friends. It was nice to meet some of the other elite runners from the state, because you see them at meets and you know who they are but you don't say much to them. It's nice to actually develop a friendship with them."
Garcia also enjoyed meeting new friends and becoming better friends with other area runners. But one thing she loved was the time spent at the Universal Studios Islands of Adventure theme park.
"It was so much fun, especially since we went to Universal Studios Islands of Adventure," Garcia said. "We got to ride all of the rides, which was fun. The Spiderman 3D ride was also cool. It was fun being with my friends and the other people, too."
Elniff said he might have had too much fun too quickly on the rides.
"We could go wherever we wanted and we went to Universal Studios Islands of Adventure," Elniff said. "I rode the (Incredible) Hulk, (Amazing Adventures of) Spiderman, Doctor Doom's Fearfall, the Hulk again, Jurassic Park (River Adventure), Dueling Dragons Fire and Dueling Dragons Ice all within 45 minutes. I was pretty much done after that. I could barely walk afterwards. I also had a headache pretty much half of the way home."
Despite bus trouble on the return trip, the runners found one form of entertainment.
"I was RPS champion," Elniff said. "We put together a rock-paper-scissors tournament with 12 people. We had $12 in the pot and I won the money. I also got a picture that says RPS champion."
After the meet, Garcia felt the race ended her successful fall season nicely.
"It was a good finish to the CC season," Garcia said. "Basketball has started, so it's not like I am not doing anything. I will be ready when track comes around."