Each season, Gatorade recognizes one student-athlete from each of the 50 states and Washington, D.C. who embodies its Player of the Year program’s three pillars: athletic production, academic achievement and exemplary character.
Each week during its Gatorade State Player of the Year selection process, USA TODAY surfaces one candidate who meets those criteria and deserves recognition as a serious Gatorade State Player of the Year contender.
Name: Kaleb Korta
School: Galena (Alaska) Interior Learning Academy
Sport: Boys Cross Country
Athletic Production: Most people run for competition or exercise or fun. Korta runs because, well, Galena is 300 miles from any proper roads to drive on, and he doesn’t quite have his pilot’s license yet.
How else is he going to get somewhere?
OK, so there are other options. Korta—son of a former Iditarod competitor—would sometimes use a dog sled to get to school, and he’s also a competitive cross country skier and biathlete. In the spring of 2013, he traveled by boat when a flood of the Yukon River damaged 90 percent of Galena’s homes (population of about 500), leaving his family and their 12 dogs floating in a 24-foot vessel for two days.
Running, though, has become Korta’s favored mode of transportation.
Though his school doesn’t have a track team—or even a track—Korta began training by himself on the tarmac of a local landing strip. As a freshman, he qualified for the Class 1A-2A-3A state finals in the 1,600- and 3,200-meter runs, capturing third place in both. It was just his second time ever running on an actual track.
As a sophomore, he won both distance events at the 2014 state track meet, and then followed with an individual state cross country title as a junior this past fall. He covered the 5K course in 16:35, finishing 13 seconds ahead of the next-closest competitor in Class 1A-2A-3A.
Korta should be able to get around by plane soon. He’s studying for a private pilot’s license and is scheduled for his first solo flight early this year. With a year-and-a-half of high school left, however, he’s still likely to spend more time running on the tarmac, and winning on those rare occasions he gets to compete on the racecourse or track oval.
Academic Achievement: Korta has maintained a straight-A average.
Exemplary Character: A talented musician who plays the guitar and piano, Korta is a member of the local Civil Air Patrol. He also mans a checkpoint during the annual Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race and volunteers stacking wood for the elderly in his community.