Alexa Efraimson is nation’s fastest distance runner among high school girls

Only a junior, Alexa Efraimson is nation’s fastest distance runner among high school girls

t.cotterill@thenewstribune.comMay 29, 2014 

Camas High School’s Alexa Efraimson pulls away from Central Kitsap’s Rose Christen to win the girls 800 meters Saturday at French Field in Kent during the Class 4A West Central District meet. Efraimson, a junior, is an elite distance runner who last summer finished third in the World Youth Championships in the 1,500.

DEAN J. KOEPFLER/STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER

BATTLE GROUND — Alexa Efraimson doesn’t want to go into marketing, as suggested by a high school career test.

“I want to be a professional runner,” the Camas High School junior said.

Efraimson told her dad that her teacher wasn’t going to accept the answer.

But he compelled her to complete the take-home portion of the quiz as if marketing were … say, her backup plan.

“She just looks at me — just dead serious — and says, ‘Dad, there is no backup plan,’” Dan Efraimson said.

Alexa already is the fastest distance runner in Washington state history.

Her 3,200-meter time of 9 minutes, 55.92 seconds is the fastest of any high school girl in the United States this season. So are her times of 9:23.24 in the

3,000 and 4:37.85 in the 1,600 — now an all-time best mark in the state of Washington.

Her indoor mile time of 4:32.15 is second fastest in the nation — behind 18-year-old Mary Cain, who runs professionally for the Nike Oregon Project.

Efraimson’s presence is felt at every dual meet and invitational in which she competes. She was introduced over the loudspeakers as a national-caliber distance runner — as if the crowd was unaware of what they were about to witness — before the 3,200 race at a meet in Battle Ground earlier this month. None of her competitors were announced.

Needless to say, Efraimson, the first Gatorade national cross country runner of the year from Washington, would much rather be running in the Olympics someday than sitting in a marketing firm.

“I think it’s really cool just being able to continue to develop and see those (personal records),” Efraimson said. “Hopefully they stay there for years to come. But I just want to continue to do my best and get better.”

‘I QUIT’

Most of Efraimson’s weekends growing up were spent as a spectator, not running. She would wake up before sunrise to travel to her mother’s latest triathlon or marathon.

Efraimson and her father would wait at various pit stops, cheering for Chantel, who has competed in an Ironman each of the past five years.

“I think that’s what got me to do track,” Efraimson said. “And she said that’s what she did when she was in school.”

But Efraimson was first a soccer player. In sixth grade, she did cross country but decided she didn’t like it and quit to focus on soccer and track.

“I’m not going to push her to do anything if she doesn’t enjoy it,” Chantel Efraimson said. “So she stopped doing cross country and stayed with soccer.”

But success in track brought Alexa Efraimson back. She returned to cross country in eighth grade and gave up soccer her first year in high school.

“I wasn’t that amazing at soccer,” Efraimson joked. “And I realized I was going to be a lot more successful at running.”

Mike Hickey, her personal trainer and the track and cross country coach at Clark College in Vancouver, said he knew Efraimson was going to be special from the moment he saw her run in middle school.

He just didn’t see her being this special.

“You have to be rational about these things,” Hickey said. “I thought she would win some state titles, for sure. But then she had this amazing, amazing finish at the Jesuit Relays her freshman year. I honestly thought, right after that, that this girl can be an Olympian.”

BARRIER BUSTER

Efraimson is the first girl in state history to break the 10-minute barrier in the 3,200. She and Bellarmine Prep great Brie Felnagle (2005) are the only two to finish under 4:40 in the 1,600 — and Efraimson is close to becoming the first to break 4:30.

The sport has come a long way since the matriarch of the barrier busters — Peninsula High School graduate Doris Brown Heritage. Her sub-five-minute indoor mile in 1966 — becoming the first U.S. woman to do so — remains a seminal moment in women’s running history.

Heritage said she has followed Efraimson closely and believes the Camas star is a testament to not only the advancement the sport has made in training, but also the evolution of the culture.

An atmosphere of ignorance has shifted to one of praise and support. Efraimson regularly is featured by Flotrack, Runner’s World and her local newspapers. She also has been highlighted in Sports Illustrated and was invited to the ESPY Awards.

“I’ve been able to have a bird’s-eye view of the change of the sport,” said Heritage, who spent several years on U.S. and international running committees after being inducted into the U.S. Track and Field Hall of Fame in 1990. “It really gives me a smile and warms my heart to see all that is happening for Alexa. I actually find what she is doing is more exciting … than what I did so many years ago.”

Heritage said she used to train by running on a track in Tacoma after church on Sundays, and later at Green Lake Park in Seattle when she attended Seattle Pacific College. She remembers people throwing balls at her as she ran around Green Lake, pushing her into the water, harassing her and treating her “like a freak.”

“People would say, ‘What in the world do you think you’re doing here? You’re not a child anymore. Grow up, get a job,’” Heritage said.

“I felt like I was putting my life into my hands every time I ran. But now girls are expecting that, if they have the talent and they like to do it, that people want to watch and support them, and it’s a good thing.”

Distance running is almost as much a mental sport as it is physical. Once Heritage finished the mile in less than five minutes, it proved it could be done. The mental barrier was broken; others wanted to follow suit.

It helps explain the depth of elite high school distance runners in Washington the past couple years. Four runners recorded 1,600 times under 4:50 last year — Amy-Eloise Neale of Glacier Peak (Snohomish); Megan Beauchene of Kamiakin (Kennewick); Katie Knight of North Central (Spokane); and Efraimson.

Heading into this weekend’s Class 4A/3A/2A state championships at Mount Tahoma Stadium in Tacoma, 14 girls have times faster than five minutes — compared with only four in 2006.

“When Doris broke the five-minute mile, that was such an awe-inspiring mark, and that was never going to happen again,” longtime Wilson track coach Sam Ring said. “Now we have Alexa running in the 4:30s. That’s very sufficient for a boy. I’d be very happy to have her on my boys team, which would have been unheard of. You would have been fired for allowing a girl to even run on the track.”

Efraimson also has paved paths outside the concourse. Her father championed a Washington Interscholastic Activities Association amendment this month — dubbed “The Alexa Efraimson Rule” — allowing unattached students the opportunity to compete in meets against professional and college athletes. Other states already had similar rules.

OLYMPIC DREAM

As an accountant, Dan Efraimson must be conservative and analytical. That tends to translate outside his work, as well, which is why he never envisioned his daughter might run for the U.S. in the Olympics someday.

That changed last summer after Alexa Efraimson qualified for the World Youth Championships in Donetsk, Ukraine. She placed third in the 1,500 behind Ethiopians Tigist Gashaw and Dawit Seyaum.

“You see her in the U.S. uniform and with all the U.S. team, and it’s just crazy. That was one of the most special times,” Dan Efraimson said. “Even at the Nike Cross Nationals, when she won the race, it still gives me chills watching the end of that.”

This weekend, she is the overwhelming favorite to add to her state track haul at Star Track XXXII. She will run in the 800 and 1,600.

After that, she will try to qualify for the World Junior Championships on July 22-27 in Eugene, Oregon.

“Nothing for her seems to be off limits,” Chantel Efraimson said. “She doesn’t seem to care about barriers.”

Alexa is undecided on her plans after next season. She could finish up her high school career and go off to college, or she could just turn professional.

Eventually her goal is to be an Olympian.

And after that? Maybe then she’ll go into marketing.

“I look back at my running log from my freshman year, and it says things like, ‘Yeah, I didn’t feel like running today.’ I just feel so much more focused and determined now,” Alexa said.

“But honestly, I don’t see myself as a national-caliber runner. I just want to be the best I can be, and I think it’s just about always trying to continually get better.”

WIAA STATE BOYS AND GIRLS TRACK AND FIELD CHAMPIONSHIPS

Class 4A/3A/2A meet (“Star Track”), Thursday-Saturday, Mount Tahoma Stadium, Tacoma

Class 1A/2B/1B meet, Friday-Saturday, Eastern Washington University, Cheney

Schedule: 4A/3A/2A – Session I Thursday is 3:30 p.m.-7:30 p.m.; Session II Friday is 9 a.m.-7 p.m.; Session III Saturday is 9:30 a.m.-4:45 p.m. 1A/2B/1B – Session I Friday is 9 a.m-6:45 p.m.; Session II Saturday is 9 a.m.-4:45 p.m.

Defending boys team champions: 4A – Federal Way. 3A – Bellevue. 2A – Sehome. 1A – Hoquiam. 2B – Asotin. 1B – Wellpinit.

Defending girls team champions: 4A – Federal Way. 3A – Kamiakin of Kennewick. 2A – Sehome. 1A – Cedar Park Christian of Bothell. 2B – Northwest Christian of Lacey. 1B – Mount Vernon Christian.

Returning South Sound individual champions: 4A boys – Keenan Curran, Federal Way, sr. (triple jump); Tyson Penn, Federal Way, so. (high jump); Denham Patricelli, Tahoma, sr. (javelin); Eric Simpson, Rogers, sr. (110-meter hurdles). 4A girls – Hannah Derby, Bellarmine Prep, sr. (400); ShaRaya Quinn, Emerald Ridge, sr. (300 hurdles); Mariyah Vongsaveng, Federal Way, jr. (100 hurdles). 2A girls – Brooke Feldmeier, Tumwater, sr. (200 and 400, 100 hurdles). 1A boys – Alexander Moore, Charles Wright Academy, sr. (400), 1A girls – Kendra Sanford, Rochester, jr. (300 hurdles). 2B girls – Karen Bulger, Northwest Christian, sr. (shot put, javelin). 1B girls – Hannah Frost, Mary M. Knight, sr. (discus).

4A/3A/2A skinny: 4A – After sweeping both team titles last year, Federal Way can join Garfield (1984-85) as the only 4A schools in state history whose boys and girls won in back-to-back seasons. ... Wenatchee senior Isaiah Brandt-Sims has dealt with a stress fracture in his leg much of the spring but is tops in 4A in the 100 meters (10.65 seconds) and 200 (21.61). ... There might not be a more exciting athlete in this meet than Federal Way’s Tyson Penn. Last week, he went 48 feet, 81/2 inches for the state’s triple jump lead, and he has a state-best 6-11 mark in the high jump. ... This is the last stop for Gig Harbor’s Nike national championship cross country quartet of Logan Carroll, Wolfgang Beck, Tristan Peloquin and Mahmoud Moussa. Expect fireworks from the Tides in the boys 1,600, where they will have to contend with Garfield’s Cameron Stanish (4 minutes, 10.19 seconds). ... Camas junior Alexa Efraimson set the all-time girls 1,600 state mark (4:37.85) at last week’s district meet. ... Federal Way’s Hannah Cunliffe is the girl to beat in the 100 (11.40) and 200 (24.29). ... Emerald Ridge’s ShaRaya Quinn leads the state in the 100 hurdles (14.21) and 300 hurdles (42.99).

3A – The Kamiakin girls in 2013 became the 10th team, boys or girls, to eclipse 100 points (1181/2) at a state meet — and first in the large-school classifications. Led by 10-time state champion Ellie Heiden in the sprints, the Braves have 19 entries in this meet. Expect them to win their third consecutive team title. … Bellevue is the favorite to win its third boys title in a row, but don’t count out Lincoln, the 3A Narrows and West Central District champion. ... Mountlake Terrace sophomore triple jumper Chinne Okoronkwo (40-11) will go for the 3A meet record of 40-13/4, set by Juanita’s Alanna Coker in 2012. Okoronkwo also is a contender in the pole vault.

2A – The fastest athlete in the state this season has been Ephrata’s Jonathan Green, a Washington State University signee. He has gone 10.63 in the 100 and 21.61 in the 200, but he could get chased down by Olympic’s Zachary Smith (10.67, 21.77) or Fife’s Jonah Mathews (10.86, 21.91). ... The Tumwater girls have star power in senior Brooke Feldmeier (defending state champion in the 200 and 400, 100 hurdles) and sophomore Peyton Russell (2A leader in long jump, triple jump). Feldmeier, who is headed to Ole Miss, has been hobbled by a hamstring injury. ... Expect the defending state champion River Ridge boys 4x100 relay team (42.50) to make a run at Pullman’s state-meet record of 42.20, set in 1999.

1A/2B/1B skinny: Charles Wright Academy senior Alexander Moore won the 400 but was second in the 200 and third in the 100 at last year’s state meet. Freeman’s Max Axtell (10.74 in 100, 50.40 in 400) and Hoquiam’s Devin Kelly (21.99 in 200) have the fastest 1A marks this spring. ... The 1A boys shot put features the all-classification state leaders, Eatonville’s Justin Kaelin (58-41/2) and Chelan’s Jose Padilla (56-3). ... Seattle Christian sophomore Abi Kim is primed to repeat her 1A state-winning efforts in the 100, 200 and long jump. ... McKenna Neufeld, Ashley Brooks and Jane Cooksley return as part of Tacoma Baptist’s state-winning 4x100 girls relay team in 2B. The Crusaders have the top time (51.20). ... The 2B boys hurdles titles likely will come down to Tacoma Baptist’s Austin Lutterloh and Lind-Ritzville’s Ryan Whitmore. Lutterloh was second in both events last season, and he leads 2B in the 300 hurdles (39.20).

Tickets: 4A/3A/2A – Daily passes are $5 for adults, $4 for students/senior citizens (Thursday), and $9/$7 (Friday, Saturday). Tournament passes are $18 for adults, $14 for students/senior citizens. 1A/2B/1B – Daily passes are $9 for adults, $7 for students/senior citizens. Tournament passes are $15/$10.

TJ Cotterill: 253-597-8677 t.cotterill@thenewstribune.com @TJCotterill todd.milles@thenewstribune.com

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