Mishawaka High (Mishawaka, Ind.) senior Anna Rohrer was today named the 2014-15 Gatorade National Runner of the Year. The 5-foot-6 senior raced to her second career national title at the Foot Locker Cross Country Championships this past season, breaking the tape in 17:13. After missing her junior season due to injury, Rohrer went undefeated in 2014, winning the individual state championship in a meet-record 17:08.8 and the Foot Locker Midwest Regional championships in 16:57 (missing her own 2012 course record by only three seconds in poor conditions).
The state’s Gatorade Girls Cross Country Runner of the Year as a sophomore, Rohrer battled bone breaks and related injury complications in her feet for three years, persisting into the start of the 2014 campaign. Bouncing back to become one of six two-time national champions in prep history, she also swept her Sectional, Regional and Semi-State championships, in addition to breaking the tape at the Mid-East Cross Country Championships. Earlier this month, she took silver as a member of the U.S. Junior Team at the Bupa Great Edinburgh Cross Country International Challenge in Scotland. She also won the 5,000-meter national title at New Balance Nationals Outdoor last spring.
We sat down with Rohrer, who remains undecided on a collegiate destination, to better understand how she outshined 220,000 high school volleyball players nationwide to win the award.
Q: As surreal as this day has been, what’s it like to have American record-holder Molly Huddle, who became a nine-time All-America just down the road from you at Notre Dame, hand you this trophy, bearing in mind that even she never won it?
A: Gosh, it’s even more eye-opening. First nationals, then Scotland and now winning this award. Seeing the other athletes’ names on this trophy really makes feel like I belong and can accomplish dreams that just a year ago, I didn’t think were possible.
Q: Your injury history and your journey back have been well documented. You’ve talked about certain waypoints where you questioned whether the grind toward regaining your championship form was worth it? How close did you come to quitting?
A: I knew I loved running, but I was really having a debate with myself. Whether I would run in college, whether I’d even get recruited, whether I’d be able to keep running in high school. I kept getting injured. I have a deep faith and I wondered if God was trying to tell me to do something else. But I just couldn’t believe He wanted to take away something I love so much. All this time later, I get athletes coming up to me for advice about how to deal with their injuries. It’s come full circle for me. There really was a purpose.
Q: You’re an accomplished musician. People say music and math excellence tend to be associated. Do you think the focus and precision of music study lends itself to distance-running acumen?
A: I think it’s pretty well known that people who are good musically are generally good at academics. I do think music plays a role somehow (in having success across all three). It just sort of lets your brain focus on something and relax, even though it’s working really hard.
Q: Your (maternal) grandfather was a band director. Bet he had some good stories, yes?
A: Well, he was the band director at my mom’s school. My mom and my aunt were in the band and they were pushed very hard. There was a lot of competition and a lot of hard work and he would chew people out. But people loved him and they always kept coming back to be in the band.
Q: Gatorade’s National Boys XC Runner of the Year Grant Fisher, a repeat winner, told us his No. 1 takeaway from his senior season was that ‘it’s a lot harder to do something a second time when everyone is watching and expecting it?’ Do you agree?
A: Yeah, I was definitely a lot more nervous going in compared to the first time. I was ranked No. 1 as a sophomore entering the race, but people weren’t expecting me to win. There was more pressure this time, but it helped me stay focused.
Q: Given your injury woes, you had to train with such specialization to peak for nationals. Even so, earlier this month at (Scotland’s) Bupa Great Edinburgh Cross Country International Challenge, you ran brilliantly in muddy conditions to capture silver in the Junior classification (20 and under). How did you manage to have something left in the tank for one last race?
A: I continued training as I had been for Foot Locker, but I did have a down week. Then I had my wisdom teeth taken out right before Christmas, so that forced me to take some easy days. That was nerve-racking before a big race, but I do think it helped my body recuperate.
A: Be honest: Has Molly Huddle already made a pitch for you to join the Fighting Irish next year?
A: No, she has not. She’s a Notre Dame alumna, but she’s training with (Providence College coach) Ray Treacy. My collegiate decision is probably down to those two schools, so I don’t think she’d advise one way or the other. I’ve got these next few weeks to think about it.