(Wolfgram crosses the tape first at NXR Heartland)
By this point, everybody who is connected to the high school running world should recognize Tierney Wolfgram and her signature Dutch braids (which she does on her own).. Part of an all-star lineup of female Minnesota runners which also includes Emily Covert, Anna Fenske, Grace and Lauren Ping and others, Wolfgram (of Math & Science Academy) was the Class A State Champion in cross-country, the 1600m, and the 3200m in the 2016-17 school year. She shut down her doubters with a dominant performance to beat out the Ping sisters, winning her second cross-country State Championship earlier this month. Last week, she proved herself once again against the entire region, beating out Emily Covert with a convincing win at the Nike Cross Heartland Regionals. I got the opportunity to talk with Tierney this week and learn about how she came to be a runner, and what has led her to being the 8th-ranked girl in the nation as a freshman!
Wolfgram, like so many other distance runners, started playing soccer in 6th grade. In preparation for her the soccer season, she would run four miles each day of the summer with her mom, and by the time the season rolled around she was the only player who had the endurance to play the entire game. After doing a race on the Fourth of July, and winning the female division, Wolfgram began to think about running more and more.
Entering her seventh grade year, Wolfgram did not have too many goals for herself. Then, running in the Roy Griak gold race, she heard over the loudspeaker that Grace Ping, just a 7th-grader, had won in 18:12. "I remember thinking that the announcer was wrong. No 7th grader could run an 18:12! After that race I began to believe that I could run faster," she recalled.
As she began to really commit to running, she moved into a training group with her male teammates, Harris Anderson (10th at state this year), and Jack Osborne (also a state qualifier). Wolfgram also enjoys running with some of her top competitors. "It's hard since we all live so far apart, but I really enjoy spending time with the other top girls. Anna Fenske, Grace Ping and I spent a week together at Grace's camp, and I've also gotten to know Emily Covert and Lauren Peterson.
Wolfgram has benefited from numerous influential people over the past few years who have played a significant role in her rise to the top of the sport. Wolfgram spent eight weeks over the summer training under Jeff Burkart, a trainer and nutritionist at Lifetime Fitness, and has combined what she learned there with her coach Brendan Ruter's training plan. Wolfgram also extends a huge thank you to her training partners, Jack and Harris. "They trusted me to set the pace for all our runs, and they really made them enjoyable. I would not be where I am this season without them."
After a dominant 8th grade year, Wolfgram heard that Grace would be moving back to Minnesota via a MileSplit interview. "That really pushed me to step up my game and figure out how I could compete with her." But after a tough race at Griak in September, Wolfgram noted that her confidence really took a hit. "It took me a few races to get that confidence back." Eventually, Wolfgram was able to leave her 17th place finish at Griak far behind her, as she finished the season in dominant fashion, winning every race. She will look to build off her fine championship form next week at the Foot Locker Midwest Regional as well as at Nike Cross Nationals in December.
(Wolfgram celebrating a fantastic NXR Regional race with friends, Grace Ping, Lauren Ping, and Anna Fenske)
Serving as a nice reminder to other runners, nerves can be a factor even to the very best runners at the top of their game. "Ever since I started to run cross country I always got super nervous before each meet. I cried before every race in 7th grade." Entering this season, Wolfgram tried to make a change in the way she approached her races, not worrying about them until she absolutely had to. This strategy worked well for her until the bigger meets came around and the pressure was too much to ignore. Before State, Wolfgram remembers going for a walk with her mom where she told her that if she didn't believe in herself, she stood no chance at all. After that walk, Wolfgram returned to the starting box where she demonstrated one of the finest acts of sportsmanship I have witnessed in all my years competing in various sports.
(Celebrating after the 2016 State Meet with training partners Jack Osborne and Harris Anderson)
Noticing an upset younger girl in her box, Wolfgram flashed back to when she was a young runner. "I felt like I was looking into the past and seeing myself." Wolfgram approached the young girl, a teammate of mine, and walked around with her, letting her know that she was actually nervous too, and calming her down. Oftentimes, there is a sense that the top runners are in some sort of bubble that distances them from other athletes. However, this was a moment where Wolfgram showed how a truly great runner can demonstrate their talent through performance and character. There is something to be said when a three-time state champion, moments before one of her biggest races, takes the time to notice a fellow runner and extend a helping hand.
Wolfgram has demonstrated her kindness and talent throughout her, (still very young) career, and she is the perfect example of someone who has found the balance between being incredibly talented at something, and loving what you do. Outside of her running, Wolgram loves to read and play with her younger brother and sister. There is no doubt in my mind that we can expect to see Wolfgram's outstanding talent and character bringing pride to Minnesota for some time to come.
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