Gatorade National AOY Finalist Spotlight: Katie Rainsberger, Cross Country

Gatorade National AOY Finalist Spotlight: Katie Rainsberger, Cross Country

Gatorade Player of the Year

Gatorade National AOY Finalist Spotlight: Katie Rainsberger, Cross Country

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Katie Rainsberger (Photo: HSS Illustration)

Katie Rainsberger (Photo: HSS Illustration)

For the more than 30 years, Gatorade has honored the nation’s most elite high school athletes for their athletic excellence, academic achievement and exemplary character with the Gatorade Player of the Year award. On July 13, the 12 Gatorade National Players of the Year from the 2015-16 season will gather in Hollywood, where the 13th annual Gatorade High School Athlete of the Year award will be presented to the best overall male and female athlete.

In the days leading to the presentation, USA TODAY High School Sports will profile each of the 12 candidates — six boys and six girls.

This installment features National Runner of the Year Katie Rainsberger from Air Academy in Colorado Springs.

Air Academy High (Colorado Springs, Colo.) senior distance talent Katie Rainsberger was named the 2015-16 Gatorade National Runner of the Year. The 5-foot-9 senior raced to the national title at the Nike Cross Nationals Final this past season, breaking the tape in 16:56.8. A three-time Gatorade Colorado Girls Cross Country Runner of the Year, Rainsberger was unbeaten at 5K in 2015. She won the Class 4A individual state championship in a course-record 17:39, leading the Kadets to the program’s first-ever team state title. Rainsberger also clocked a 17:07 to win her second consecutive NXN Southwest Regional championship.

The Class 4A Athlete of the Year in 2016 as named collectively by CHSAANow.com, ColoradoPreps.com and MaxPreps, Rainsberger swept the 800-meter run (2:09.97), the 1,600-meter run (4:45.27) and the 3,200-meter run (10:23.24). She also anchored the winning 4×800-meter relay squad that broke the tape in 9:14.28. Her 1,600-meter time of 4:44.31 at the Longmont Invitational as well as her 3,200- and 800-meter clockings at the state meet ranked seventh, 24th and 48th among U.S. prep competitors in 2016, respectively.

MORE: Rainsberger wins Gatorade National Runner of the Year

Attending high school inside a U.S. military facility means that flybys and parachute jumps are so routine, they barely turn heads. But Katie Rainsberger’s wide-eyed amazement when she was surprised with the Gatorade National Runner of the Year trophy was a moment folks at Air Academy High (Colorado Springs, Colo.) won’t soon forget.

It’s surreal to be included among the names that are on this trophy. I don’t consider myself anywhere close to the talent of these Gatorade national winners. This is an honor you strive for, but when it actually happens, it just makes you want to work harder to prove that you deserve to have your name here too.

Rainsberger was Team USA’s fastest competitor at Scotland’s Great Edinburgh XCountry International Challenge in January, where she finished fifth (14:29—4K). Racing against a field dominated by collegians and international juniors as one of only two prep runners on her squad, she was the youngest finisher among the race’s first six.

RELATED: Q&A with Rainsberger

Katie Rainsberger crosses the finish line as the winner of the Nike Cross Nationals in Oregon (Photo: Nike)

Katie Rainsberger crosses the finish line as the winner of the Nike Cross Nationals in Oregon (Photo: Nike)

The Gatorade Player of the Year award recognizes outstanding athletic excellence as well as high standards of academic achievement and exemplary character demonstrated on and off the field. Eason is now a finalist for the Gatorade Male High School Athlete of the Year award. USA TODAY High School Sports administrates the nationwide selection process in collaboration with Gatorade.

I think to be the first Colorado recipient to win this award is inspiring and humbling at the same time. I look up to runners like Elise Cranny and Melody Fairchild. In fact, I think Melody is one of the best distance runners ever, not just the best to come out of Colorado. I think there’s a certain Colorado running pride that I’m not sure you find in other states. You want to represent for Colorado and that’s exciting to be a part of. It’s funny because my mom coaches privately with that Colorado winner from 1985, Yolanda Hill (née Yolanda Johnson), whose daughter Dior is at USC (and was a two-time Gatorade State Track & Field Athlete of the Year in high school).

Rainsberger’s mother, Lisa, is the last American woman to win the Boston Marathon (in 1985, then named Lisa Larsen Weidenbach) and was a two-time Chicago Marathon champion, in 1988 and ’89. A three-sport All-American at the University of Michigan (cross country, track and field, swimming), she also won marathons in Minneapolis, Montreal and Sapporo, and narrowly missed qualification for the Olympic Games by finishing fourth in the 1984, 1988 and 1992 Olympic Marathon Trials.

Rainsberger maintained a weighted 4.49 GPA in the classroom. A member of the National Honor Society and sports editor of her school newspaper, she has volunteered locally on behalf of USA Track & Field as well as charity road races. The recipient of the Sportswomen of Colorado 2015 High School Cross Country Award, Rainsberger has also been honored as a student-athlete by Rotary Club International.

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