Jenna Gearing has only faced one limitation when it comes to running cross country — and it’s not the stamina part of the distance sport. Usually, she’s worrying about those pesky ‘what ifs’ that start floating around in the head of the two-time state champion from White County, which caused her so much angst.
“I always get nervous before the race,” said the sophomore Gearing, who recently broke 18 minutes for the first time in the five-kilometer cross country distance. “I always try to do the same routines before the race to calm down.”
And once Gearing starts moving her feet, it’s the rest of the girls in the race left trying to play catch up. As a sophomore in 2013, Gearing won the Region 7-AAA title by more than a minute at Unicoi State Park with a time of 18 minutes, 22 seconds, then cruised to a repeat in the Class AAA championship race at Carrollton (19:29).
“Jenna has a lot of God-given ability and hates to lose,” White County coach Sam Borg said. “She’s always trying to get better as a runner.”
For her efforts, Gearing is The Times Girls Cross Country Runner of the Year.
The three-sport athlete, Gearing believes she’s finally starting to conquer those jitters. She gives a lot of credit to White County’s third-year coach, who first made her acquaintance after she won a middle school race in 2011.
Borg could tell how blessed she was with running ability, even though it was her first year in the sport. Gearing shook Borg’s hand after the race, promising she’d be out for the high school team in 2012. Since then, she’s done nothing but flourish. To this day, Gearing and Borg work closely on race preparation with everything from studying the course to knowing all about the competitors.
“Coach Borg is an amazing coach,” Gearing said. “He’s always helping and encouraging us, and always runs with us, too.”
Now that Gearing has shown she’s an elite runner on the state level, she’s starting to showcase her talents outside the state. On Nov. 30, she was the third fastest girls runner in the state and 28th overall (17:56) at the Foot Locker Cross Country Championships in Charlotte, N.C. What was significant about that result was that Gearing edged out Marist’s Morgan Ilse by less than a second. Gearing and Isle will likely be top competitors for the Class AAAA state championship in 2014.
“Now that Jenna’s gotten under 18 minutes, it’s going to make it easier to relax and more fun too,” said Borg, who mentioned Gearing is now receiving letters of interest to run from Tennessee, Penn State and Arkansas, among others.
Over the course of the season, Borg says that Gearing really refined her race strategy to be more efficient with her energy and not start too fast. She made that same mistake early in the season with a fast start in the Asics Invitational, and as a result took second to Kathryn Foreman of Landmark Christian, the Class A private school state champion.
Ever since then, Gearing’s pace has become more streamlined and she hasn’t worried about being in front at the end of the first mile. They both agree that the region race was one of her most efficient with a pace that led to a dominating victory.
Gearing said that much of her competitive nature comes from being part of a family with seven children — ranging in age from 8-18. She’s the second oldest of five daughters. They all have their own specialty in athletics. Her oldest sister, Kaitlyn, a senior, is an accomplished short distance track runner, while brother, Will, a junior, is a standout for the Warriors basketball program.
Gearing knows she’s going to have to stay on her toes with a younger sister in sixth grade, Ellie, who has already promised to beat all her older sister’s times in cross country.