If there’s one word to describe the feeling White County’s Jenna Gearing felt when she crossed the finish line first at the state championship meet in November in Carrollton, it would be relief.
After overcoming sickness and dragging herself across the finish line in a previous meet only to finish second, Gearing said she was nervous going into the rest of the season because she “knew there was a chance it could happen again.”
“She ran so hard she almost passed out,” White County coach Sam Borg said. “Then all she was talking about was wanting to go practice.”
After winning the following meet, however, Gearing said she had confidence in herself that she could finish the season strong.
She did just that, winning the Class AAA girls state championship in her freshman year with a time of 19 minutes, 41 seconds, almost 50 seconds ahead of the second-place finisher.
For her efforts, Gearing is The Times Cross Country Girls Runner of the Year.
“She has an amazing God-given ability to run faster than most girls,” Borg said. “We knew she had a great chance to win state, but we had to make sure the mental toughness was there.”
Going into the state meet, Gearing said she was more nervous than she had ever been and had to focus on her goals and her proven method of running.
“I like to run out early to get away from the pack,” Gearing said. “I always visualize that there is someone behind me, and it works.”
Gearing’s father told her after the meet that someone was behind her early on, but Gearing said she was so focused that she never heard the footsteps.
“I was set on winning,” Gearing said, “and I knew that whatever happened, I would always have more years.”
When she crossed the line, she said she was almost in disbelief.
“I couldn’t believe I did it,” she said. “It was my goal all season and it made me so relieved.”
Relief may have been instant, but she said the feeling that she was actually a state champion didn’t completely set in until she arrived back at the school after the meet.
“When I had gotten back to the school and saw how big of a deal it was, I felt like I had changed our school and was being a role model for the kids coming up because no one really paid attention to cross country before,” Gearing said.
Prior to the race, Borg talked Gearing through the course in Carrollton again although she had already won the Last Chance Invitational on the same course earlier in the season.
“That prepared me more than I ever thought it would,” Gearing said of running in the Last Chance Invitational.
Of the courses she has run on, Gearing said that the course at Carrollton is one of her favorite because she loves hilly courses. In the offseason, she runs in Helen on another course she enjoys.
“There’s this trail that we used to run the long run on,” she said, “I like it because its flat for the first two miles and then it’s uphill the rest of the way.”
She said she plans to use the Helen course to train for next season after she finishes playing basketball and soccer and running track.
“I want to run more next season than I did this year,” Gearing said, “and I want to train more in the offseason.”
As of now, Gearing is setting goals for next season.
“She will spend most of next season trying to beat her own times,” Borg said. “She’s hoping to break 18 (minutes) on a faster course and to be more consistent breaking 19.”
“I have a lot more confidence in myself since I won state,” Gearing said. “I have higher expectations now.”