Emerald Ridge High junior Emma Bates, who currently has the West Central District 3’s fifth-best cross country time entering the week, is not a runner.
That might need some clarification.
Bates never really meant to be a runner. Not in the traditional sense, one where she was born with an innate desire or need to run. It wasn’t one of Bates’ hobbies, nor was it even something she would think of participating in.
“I’m not a natural runner,” Bates said. “I had to learn how to run, and I worked really hard at it to get to this point where I’m at in the season.”
No, she was always meant for something else, said her father, Jay.
“We thought she was going to be a little theatre geek,” said Jay, who is also the ER cross country coach. “She loved the theater, she loved performance, and she did not like sports.”
But running was in the family blood.
We thought she was going to be a little theatre geek. She loved the theater, she loved performance, and she did not like sports.
After years of watching her brother Connor run for Emerald Ridge, something came alive inside of Emma, a fire was lit — one that was started by her brother all those years ago.
“I started running back in seventh grade, and I wasn’t really good. I did it because my brother did it,” said Emma about watching Connor, who graduated in 2015. “He wasn’t that great of a runner when he started, too, but he trained hard at it.”
Watching Connor work on improving himself inspired Emma to do the same, and in short time, she was able to develop into one of the district’s best.
“I just saw his success and how he got good, so I started training pretty hard,” she added. “Now I’m pretty good.”
With her personal best of 19 minutes, 18.6 seconds — set at the Bellevue Cross Country Invitational and good for the current fifth-best time in the district — Emma can now say she is starting to blaze her own trail.
“I did not get the chance to coach my son, and it’s been fun to see both of them discover running on their completely different paths,” Jay said.
I just saw his success and how he got good, so I started training pretty hard.
Emma’s path started in seventh grade, and after watching Connor run for years, she decided to at least attempt one event just to give it a shot.
She just happened to choose one tough event for her first go-around.
“She decided she wanted to run the Sound to Narrows. This was eighth grade, and she was afraid she was going to be in last place,” Jay said. “I said, ‘Then let’s eliminate the worries and let’s start in last place.’”
And then move up from there, he added.
About a mile into the 2013 Sound to Narrows 12K in Tacoma, Jay had Emma take a moment and look back. In front of her eyes was a sea of bodies behind her, with the teenager not showing any signs of slowing down in the first race she had attempted.
“I asked her, ‘Are you worried about last place now?’ She said, ‘No,’” Jay said. “And the light switch was on.”
It was in full glow for Emma as running became a drive.
“I’m always trying to run as many races as I can now,” Emma said.
Even though Emma wasn’t able to compete in the Nike Hole in the Wall XC Invitational at Lakewood High School in Arlington — an invite she was hoping to run — that competitive nature has helped shape Emerald Ridge’s girls cross country team.
“We all want each other to do well,” senior Brittany Iverson said. “She’s a very good leader because she inspires us because she works really hard.”
The love for running is now entrenched in Emma Bates, and that passion has teammates following in her footsteps.
“All the girls at the top (of district’s best times), we sort of know each other,” Emma said. “We’ll talk after the races, and it’s kind of cool because it gives you someone to target.”