The last time Zachary Alhamra started a race at Monument Valley Park, he recalls waking up about 100 yards from the finish line after passing out, then getting an ambulance ride to Penrose Hospital.
On Thursday, the Pine Creek junior not only finished the race, but did so in style, winning the 5A Region 5 boys' regional cross country event and helping the Eagles qualify as a team for the upcoming state meet for only the third time in school history.
"This is a big comeback for me," said Alhamra, who finished the 5K race in 15 minutes, 44 seconds, eight seconds ahead of Mountain Vista senior Connor Weaver. "After I didn't finish this race before, I struggled to continue running. Even during the race, I had images of two years ago in my head. This time, it worked out well."
Thursday's regionals across Colorado started two days of qualifying for the state championships, which will be Oct. 26 at Bear Creek Regional Park and Norris-Penrose Event Center. In addition to the 5A regional, the 4A Region 2 races also staged events at the historic venue.
For years, Palmer has called Monument Valley Park home for daily practices. In her final regional on her home course, senior Hannah McIntyre capped her cross country career by winning her first regional in 18:33, breaking away from Pine Creek junior Kaleigh Kroeker down the stretch."We come here every day, and it's great to get to celebrate my last four years here," said McIntyre, who placed third at last season's regional at Fountain-Fort Carson. "There have been so many barriers, and you don't think you can get over them sometimes. It's amazing how much you can do if you let yourself."
Kroeker's runner-up finish, combined with three of her teammates crossing among the top 16, fueled Pine Creek to the girls' regional title, ahead of Rock Canyon and Mountain Vista.
Air Academy swept the day in 4A, claiming boys' and girls' regional titles.
While the Kadets outdistanced The Classical Academy by 12 points to win the boys' title, its girls' team clipped the Titans, the defending 4A state champions, by one point to claim the regional trophy for the second time in three years.
Air Academy sophomore Katie Rainsberger defended her 4A regional title, coming back from a two-week break and opening up a big lead early, cruising to a 53-second victory over Palmer Ridge senior Ali Deitsch.
The 4A boys' race went to Palmer Ridge junior Eric Hamer, who finished second to TCA's Conner Wilburn a year ago.
Hamer spent the year looking at his runner-up ribbon. And late in the race, when he found himself neck and neck with the Titans junior, he knew he had to take charge.
"I definitely saw that second-place finish as a success," said Hamer, Palmer Ridge's first boys' regional champ since 2010, when Spencer Wenck set a course record at Monument Valley Park en route to a 4A state championship. "I knew I could do better. But I knew if I had a chance against Conner, I had to make the first move."