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 today was a moment folks at Air Academy High (Colorado Springs, Colo.) won’t soon forget.
RELATED: Katie Rainsberger Q&A
“It’s surreal to be included among the names that are on this trophy,” said Rainsberger, 17, an Oregon signee whose high school is on the heavily guarded campus of the Air Force Academy. “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.”
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 two-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.
Earlier this month, Rainsberger was Team USA’s fastest competitor at Scotland’s Great Edinburgh XCountry International Challenge, 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. As a high school junior, she won the state cross country title and tacked on three individual state championships along with a relay crown at last spring’s track and field state championships.
“Katie cemented herself as one of the all-time elite distance runners in a state that has produced exceptional cross country talents,” said Erik Boal, editor of DyeStatCAL.com. “Her strongest performances this season came when the stakes were highest, especially at the NXN Final, where she showcased an impressive combination of maturity, tenacity, strength and speed to cap a four-year quest for a national title. She served as the inspiration for a team that featured three freshmen and a sophomore, leading Air Academy to its first state title in the program’s 49-year history.”
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 racecourse. Rainsberger is now a finalist for the Gatorade Female High School Athlete of the Year award. USA TODAY High School Sports administrates the nationwide selection process in collaboration with Gatorade.
Rainsberger has 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.
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.
Katie Rainsberger becomes the ninth athlete from Colorado to earn national Gatorade honors in any sport, and the first in cross country. She joins a distinguished list of past national winners from the Rocky Mountain State that includes former NFL lineman Jeff Byers (Loveland), who won in 2003-04, and seven-year big league outfielder Darnell McDonald (Cherry Creek, Englewood), the 1996-97 winner in baseball. Last year’s honoree in girls soccer, Colorado’s Mallory Pugh (Highlands Ranch), will reportedly join the professional National Women’s Soccer League and become a member of the U.S. Women’s National Team pool this month at age 17. The NWSL draft is scheduled for today.
California, with 65, has produced the most Gatorade national winners across the program’s 12 sports, followed by Texas (30), Florida (21), Illinois (15) and Indiana (13).