As a freshman, Heather Bates took the cross country world by storm, finishing 10th at the 5A state meet.
Then a different type of storm took control of her cross country dreams. A vitamin deficiency zapped her strength and stamina and took out her sophomore year, while chronic injuries to her legs swallowed her junior season.
Then Bates looked up and realized her senior year was upon her. Suddenly, the clock ticked louder than ever as her days at Pine Creek wound down, race by race, stride by stride.
Her senior year culminated with a 5A state individual state title and, later, a berth in Nike Cross Nationals, the hurdle-filled journey proved well worth it.
“It’s really exciting to be finishing off my senior year this way,” Bates said. “And it’s nice when hard work pays off. I’ve had some rough patches in cross country the last few years, and it’s hard to explain how happy and thankful I am, because I’ve dealt with things. I appreciate the adversity.”
Bates, leading a varsity squad that includes two juniors and a sophomore, helped the Eagles to their best team finish, placing third at the 5A state meet. Whereas some schools have established a long line of captains and elite runners, Bates quite possibly could have provided the spark to set in motion a higher standard of cross country at Pine Creek.
“Until you get that runner, it’s tough for a program to be a top-notch program,” longtime Eagles cross country and track coach Max Oliver said. “We had never gotten to the top until this year. Having her out in front, other kids see what’s possible, and it gives your program a real shot in the arm.”
Bates managed to stay healthy and peaked at the right time. She claimed the region championship, and at the 5A state meet at the Norris-Penrose Event Center, crossed the finish line first to claim the school’s first state title in cross country. Last spring, while running for Discovery Canyon, she defended her 4A title in the 3,200 meters.
While Bates cherished her health, she held her iTunes close to her heart, as well. Without a training partner, she turned to thousands of songs to fill in the quiet times, as well as to provide plenty of motivation and inspiration.
“I love music, and every time I run, I’m listening to music,” said Bates, who draws motivation from groups such as Coldplay and Mumford & Sons. “There are certain quotes from songs that help, sometimes, when I might want to give up or slow down.”
She’s not planning on slowing down, at least not before the Nike Cross Nationals, Dec. 2 in Portland, Ore. She clinched a berth in the prestigious event by placing third at the recently held Nike Cross Southwest Regionals in Gilbert, Ariz.
“I’ve just been a girl on a mission in cross country season,” Bates said. “I set goals at the beginning of the season, and so far, have gotten all of them. This year is what I wanted it to be. I didn’t want to be that freshman who did amazing things and never did it again. I was tired of sitting at home and watching the results and seeing my friends running at a cool meet. Now, it’s cool that I’ll be there, too.”
Heather Bates, sr., Pine Creek
Megan Brunette, sr., TCA
Ali Deitsch, jr., Palmer Ridge
Lauren Hamilton, jr., TCA
Hannah McIntyre, jr., Palmer
Katie Rainsberger, fr., Air Academy
Aubrey Till, soph., Canon City
Lina Arista, sr., Vista Ridge
Amy Penn, sr., Liberty
Gabby Roth, soph., Coronado
Katherine Sered, jr., Pine Creek
Gabrielle Sered, jr., Pine Creek
Elena Slavoski, jr., St. Mary’s
Jessy Sweet, sr., The Vanguard School
Runner of the Year: Heather Bates, sr., Pine Creek
Coach of the Year: Alan Versaw, TCA
Lauren Akers, jr., Coronado; Olivia Babeu, soph., Coronado; Madeline Boehlke, sr., Coronado; Hanna Born, fr., Air Academy; Veronica Carriedo, sr., Pine Creek; Nell Crosby, jr., Cheyenne Mountain; Olivia Evans, sr., Air Academy; Taylor Fogg, sr., Pine Creek; Heather Gentry, sr., Palmer Ridge; Alli Groninger, sr., Palmer; Sylvia Hayes, sr., Coronado; Natalie Kalin, soph., Pine Creek; Kaleigh Kroeker, soph., Pine Creek; Maddie Mullen, soph., TCA; Kat Pennington, jr., Air Academy; Hannah Struttman, jr, CSCS; Abby Topper, jr., CSCS; Hannah Williams, soph., TCA; Kayle Wiitala, fr., Air Academy; Shannon Young, sr., Coronado