Champagne culminates high school cross-country career at Footlocker Nationals

At 6 a.m, Dec. 6, around the time when her Seton Catholic classmates were rolling out of bed to prepare for another school day, Mary Kate Champagne took to the air as she made her way to San Diego, California to take part in the culminating event of her high school cross country career the Footlocker National Championships. Mary Kate earned a spot at the championships by placing third at the North East Regional Footlocker Championships in November, where she competed against the most talented runners from Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont and Washington, D.C. She made local running history by becoming the first female from Section 7 to qualify for the Footlocker National Championship in its 29-year history. It has been my goal throughout high school to qualify for this race, Mary Kate commented. Mary Kate first flew to Atlanta, Ga., where she met up with other finalists from the east and a chaperone. Her next flight brought her and the other finalists to San Diego and Hotel De Coronado, the prestigious host resort built on a long stretch of sandy beach on the Pacific Ocean. After settling in, the finalists did what they do just about every afternoon of the week, they went for a run. This was an extra special run, though, as they were running with other high school elite runners and their running heroes who served as chaperones. Among those running heroes were George Torres, Chris Solinsky, Ryan Hall who just won the USA Olympic Trials Marathon and Olympians Carrie Tollefson and Suzie Favor-Hamilton. The highlight of Thursday evening was a catered Mexican dinner at the resort where the athletes were treated like royalty. They ate to the music of a live Mexican band and were given flowers and sombreros. After dinner, they took turns swinging at pinatas. The game became quite entertaining when one athletes wild swing sent silverware flying everywhere. The fun-filled evening helped the young runners temporarily forget about the pressure of the upcoming race and laugh and relax. Team uniforms were issued after dinner, as the championship race is not just an individual championship, but also a team championship. The Foot Locker Cross Country Championships is comprised of four regional teams Midwest, Northeast, South and the West. The eastern athletes immediately retired to their rooms as they were exhausted from their long flights and the four-hour time change. On Friday morning, the group headed over to the site of Saturdays national championship, Morley Field, Balboa Park, San Diego. The group ran the course, with most athletes separating themselves into their regional teams. I liked the course; it actually felt short, Mary Kate commented. An afternoon picnic and games at the park were in the itinerary, but an unusual event in southern California, rain, forced the runners to return to the resort for a relaxing afternoon of hanging out and playing ping-pong. It was so much fun, Mary Kate said, We just talked for hours. In the evening, the endurance stars loaded up on carbohydrates at a catered pre race pasta dinner. Following dinner, the athletes parents began arriving, and there was a formal question and answer time during which the footlocker finalists were given an opportunity to ask our nations top professional runners questions. Chris Solinsky had a piece of advice that I intend to keep with me, said Mary Kate. You have to have a short-term memory after your races so you dont get too caught up in your failures or successes, Solinsky advised. After the question and answer session, many of the athletes collected autographs from their running heroes, and headed of to their rooms for a good nights rest before the biggest race of their lives. Despite a state of exhaustion, Mary Kate was restless and unable to get a good nights sleep on either Thursday or Friday night. She felt a little jittery on Saturday morning, but that is par for the course for her. I typically feel a little nervous before big races, she said. Mary Kate prepared well for the race of her life and went out feeling confident and good. She found the conditions favorable to the Northeast athletes with temperatures in the mid-50s, partly cloudy skies, and a muddy course due to the previous days rain. By mid-race, the pace picked up considerably, and Mary Kate found herself unable to respond like she wanted to. Perhaps she hit her peak performance at regionals, or maybe jet lag and lack of good sleep had a negative impact, but her 30th place finish was a disappointment, and below what she was ideally capable of achieving. After the race she signed autographs, and headed off for a cool down run with some Northeast teammates. I tried to get over my feelings of disappointment and have a good time, Mary Kate said. I really thought about what Chris Solinsky said and that made me feel a lot better. The post-race lunch of huge $15 burgers (which were free for athletes), french fries and ice cream sundaes, also helped wash away feelings of disappointment. After the lunch, all athletes had phone interviews with reporters from their hometown newspapers. Once the interviews were over, the athletes finally felt free to completely relax and enjoy their last afternoon and evening together. Some of the athletes went ice skating at the resorts outdoor ice-skating rink on the beach, while others hung out in the pool and huge hot tub with a capacity for about 30 people. My legs were sore, Mary Kate said, so I went in the pool and hot tub. Saturday evening there was a formal banquet in the resorts grand hall. Awards were handed out to the athletes that placed in the top, as well as to the winning regional team, which was the Mary Kates Northeast team. After the awards they watched the race on a big movie screen as well as a slide collage of the entire event set to music. The last event of the night was a dance with a D.J. When the dance ended none of the runners headed off to bed. They decided not to waste their last night together by sleeping, and stayed up all night talking. Most of the athletes had to catch very early flights anyway, Mary Kate explained. Some had to catch flights as early as 3 a.m. The highlight for Mary Kate was the last afternoon and night. It was just so much fun getting to know everyone. People really warmed up and relaxed once the race was done. Though the race itself was a disappointment, she feels it was a valuable learning experience that will help her in future collegiate races next fall when she runs for Providence College.

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