Utah youth cross-country team wins national championship

The National Championship cross-country team poses for a picture at the national meet. From left to right:  Adria Favero, Tyana Lake, Teagan Harris, May Bybee, Lily Jameson, Hadley Flach and Tatum Flach.

The National Championship cross-country team poses for a picture at the national meet. From left to right: Adria Favero, Tyana Lake, Teagan Harris, May Bybee, Lily Jameson, Hadley Flach and Tatum Flach. (Michelle Brinkerhoff)

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DRAPER – A group of 11- and 12-year-old long-distance runners from Utah are riding high after bringing home the Jr. Olympics National Cross Country Championship title.

The Dec. 11 championship in Paris, Kentucky, brought runners from all over the country, to battle through wind and hail — and even a tornado warning.

"The weather was intense!" said coach Michelle Brinkerhoff. "It was freezing cold with sideways hail and 40 mph wind gusts. There was even a tornado warning at the start line that made the runners have to go wait in a tent for several minutes while the race was delayed. We ended up putting trash bags over them to keep them warm, and I told them that they didn't have to run in this if they didn't want to."

Brinkerhoff was proud to announce that "not a single runner chose not to compete."

Adria Favero, Tyna Lake, Teagan Harris, Mya Bybee, Lily Jameson, and Hadley and Tatum Flach – all from the Race Cats Draper team led by Brinkerhoff — finished the race. All seven of them not only became national champions, but due to every one of them placing in the top 25, each was named as an All-American.

According to Brinkerhoff, the battle to the top spot wasn't just a physical or mental, but also "environmental," she said.

Mya Bybee, from Alpine, finished 19th out of 400 runners. The 12-year-old said that even though the weather made it hard, it was the excitement of the national meet and her teammates that pulled her through.

"I didn't notice the wind and cold when I was running," Mya said. "My hands and feet were the coldest. … What kept me going was being excited to run and being proud of myself for accomplishing something hard. I also was excited to be there racing with my team and we were all in the same boat."

Brinkerhoff said having that team camaraderie and drive is something that not only helped the championship team, but all the teams she brought with her from Utah. In fact, Brinkerhoff brought four full teams — 28 runners – to the national meet, and all of the runners, she said, not only finished the race in the brutalist of weather conditions, but every team finished within the Top 10.

"Not only did the 11- 12-year-old girls accomplish something special and great, but the rest of our teams also accomplished some amazing results," she said. "Our 11-12 boys finished in a three-way tie for third place."

The tie was broken by taking into account the placing of the sixth runner, which is usually unheard of in cross-country. In cross-country, the score is calculated by adding up the placings of each team's top five runners, and each team brings a total of seven runners. But in the event of a tie, the sixth place runner is scored, and it continues to the seventh runner if necessary. Brinkerhoff said that when the tie happened, it taught her athletes that every runner counts.

"If you are the sixth or seventh runner, a lot of times you don't think that you matter, but you really do," Brinkerhoff explained. "If even a single runner had been in front of our sixth runner, we would have taken fourth place. The point tally was really that close!"

When the day was through, the Draper Race Cats cross-country team ended up with all four teams cracking the Top 10 in the nation, and nine All-Americans including Kenneth Briggs and David Webb from the 11-and 12- year-old boy's team.

Brinkerhoff said she can't wait to see what these young athletes are capable of.

In the meantime, she said that many of the athletes are taking a well-deserved break, with some competing in other sports, which she encourages. Brinkerhoff said that in the end, she hopes that all of the athletes continue to see running as something they enjoy, and something that can create wonderful and lasting memories.


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Arianne Brown has been a contributing writer at KSL.com for many years with a focus of sharing heartwarming stories.


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