Caylee Wagner sees God’s hand in everything that’s happened in her life.
She’s resolute that becoming a state champion runner wouldn’t have happened without the assistance of the Lord.
Claiming the Class 3A cross country state championship Friday in Carrollton was the culmination of years where she kept firm in her faith and overcame a list of circumstances that made changing sports necessary.
“Caylee is a person who lives out her faith through running,” North Hall coach Sam Borg said.
Fans in Carrollton saw the North Hall senior take a commanding lead early and cross the finish line with a mark of 19 minutes, 8 seconds, which was more than one minute ahead of the state runner-up, Janie Cooper, from Westminster. However, running was never initially in the cards for Wagner, who gave up her first love of gymnastics in middle school, due to a recurring right-wrist injury that required surgery.
Little did she know at the time, in her case, it was God’s plan for her to be a championship runner who has numerous college options to continue running cross country.
Wagner said she plans to announce this week where she will attend college.
“For me, running is a form of worship,” said Wagner, who is also a guitarist who uses her talents at church and with the school’s Fellowship of Christian Athletes. “I use my time running to pray and talk to the Lord. I’m going to do my best and lay it on the line for him.”
Since Wagner comes from a family where running is encouraged, her parents made a mandate that their daughter would run with the team at school to stay active after gymnastics was no longer an option. Not a fan of that idea, Caylee negotiated with her parents, Jay and Shelly, that she would run alone in their neighborhood in seventh grade, before joining to the team the following year.
Slowly, that requirement to run turned into something Caylee loved immensely.
And running was something that Wagner was also prolific at doing.
At first, Wagner was having to stop for regular breaks in order to get three miles in the books.
By the time she showed up in eighth grade, it was clear that Wagner had a bright future running.
That athletic tenacity and unwavering faith in God made it possible for Wagner to blossom into the best at her final — and most important — high school meet.
Leading into the state championship, Wagner felt she was in good shape for a good race. However, it was the surprise before the race that put her over the top.
In 2020, Wagner won 6 of 9 races during the cross country season.
At Hall County, North Hall’s senior was runner-up to Gainesville’s Ashley Thompson, who ran the second-best time among Class 7A girls at state.
However, Wagner’s motivation at state took on a new level with a surprise visit from her brother, Noah Wagner, who made an unannounced drive down from where he runs cross country at Cedarville University, which is near Dayton, Ohio.
Wagner said her parents weren’t even aware that he was going to drive down to Gainesville the night before the race, then make the ride with them to Carrollton to support Caylee.
Caylee said the gesture of Noah’s support meant more than he could ever know.
Caylee still remembers seeing Noah walk up to the team tent before the race. Seeing her brother, who is just one year older, helped wash away all the nerves that go with running at a state championship race.
“I couldn’t believe my brother was there. I was just so excited,” Caylee said. “I was super nervous and had so many emotions before the race, but seeing him was such a relief. He walked to the starting line with me and reminded me to run for the Lord.”