Not many young runners are able to overcome the pressure that comes with trying to repeat as cross country state champions, but this isn’t the case for White County sophomore Jenna Gearing.
Gearing first stormed on to the Georgia cross country scene as a freshman last season, running times that were among the top for female runners in Georgia.
Last weekend, Gearing earned her second consecutive Class AAA state cross country championship, beating the odds and achieving yet another of her many goals.
For her efforts, Gearing is The Times’ Athlete of the Week.
“When you get to that level, there’s always a lot of pressure, especially if you’re a favorite like that,” said Lady Warriors coach Sam Borg. “She has always had high goals for herself though.”
In 2012, Gearing was simply the fast freshman with immense talent. This year, however, she has been able to improve her technique, change her mentality on the course and expand her abilities beyond pure skill.
“She ran with a lot more composure this year,” Borg said. “The race was really in her control this time.”
Borg noted that some girls ran close to Gearing early in the race, but by the second mile, Gearing had distanced herself from the rest of the pack. He also said that she learned a great amount from a meet she lost earlier in the season to the No. 1 all-classification runner in the state, Landmark Christian’s Kathryn Foreman.
“She learned a lot from her at that meet, and we talked about those things on the starting line to make sure she didn’t make the same mistakes,” Borg said.
Gearing took those lessons and her previous experiences to beat the No. 2 runner by more than 20 seconds. Her time of 19 minutes, 29.22 seconds ranked in the top 20 girls runners in the state and qualified her to run as a member of Team Georgia in a national qualifying race at the end of the month.
“Now she’s busy training for Foot Locker South, which is not a high school race. It’s an invitational regional race in Charlotte,” Borg said. “It’s a really important race for colleges to get a look at her. In the state meet, it was about winning, but this time, it’s about her time.”
The top 11 runners from each regional move on to compete in Foot Locker Nationals, and Gearing hopes to represent Georgia in the Team Georgia jersey on a national level as well.
She hopes to run even faster, getting her time closer to being under the 18 minute mark, to qualify for the national race and gain collegiate attention.
Even though her name has become common among cross country programs, Borg said that one of Gearing’s best qualities is her attitude about everything.
“She’s extremely humble,” Borg said. “She’s not really over-confident at all, and the cross country community likes her because of how sweet she is.”