In White Mountain, Some Friendly Cross-Country Competition

The Nome and White Mountain cross-country running teams relax before the awards ceremony in the White Mountain School gym

The White Mountain Wolves hosted the Nome Nanooks on Saturday at the annual White Mountain Cross-Country Running Invite.

It was an opportunity for the teams to continue preparing for the upcoming regionals, and also gave White Mountain families a chance to watch their student athletes compete. KNOM’s Gabe Colombo headed to White Mountain for the meet.

It’s a cold, cloudy day in White Mountain as the high-school girls finish up their race. A crowd of parents, families, and siblings gathers around the makeshift finish chute.

Penny Ione has supported two generations of student athletes in the community.

“I watch my sons, my daughters, and now, it’s my grandkids. Good to see them running, and good to have sports here,” she said.

Her granddaughter Felicia Ione has been running the course since 6th grade. She said it was tough today. Still, her mindset was “to push harder. I think that was the most I’ve pushed myself.”

And her team?

“They did good. They were right behind me, and that’s good,” she said.

Katya Wassillie, the White Mountain coach, had similar things to say about the team:

Wassillie: “We’ve been timing this course for them every Friday that we have a free Friday for the past month and a half, and each time, they’re improving on their personal times.”
Colombo: “Did they do that today as well?”
Wassillie: “They did. Everybody was improving.”

The Nome team wasn’t as familiar with the course, which winds over the town’s hills and out into the forest. So earlier in the day, they walked the course to get a feel for it.

Senior Donald Smith was listening to punk rock music as he walked:

“It’s kind of been my main thing lately. If you start to hear music, that means Donald’s around the corner.”

Smith said he hopes to start college next year and focus on business, and perhaps start his own coffee-and-apparel company. His short-term outlook, though, for cross country?

“Train to race, race to train, you know? A couple years ago, we had a cross-country camp, and we had this Olympic skier/biker/runner guy, and he told us that you train to race, and you race to train. You just go for it, you give it your all, you can’t be down about yourself about it.”

His teammate Aaron Rose, a junior, was walking the trail, too. He’d seen it before, and had a clear outlook for the race:

“I ran it this summer, and I got a 21:12, and I’m hoping to either beat that or break 20 minutes. I’m going to go hard. I kind of want to have that side ache to push me.” 

Rose achieved his goal on Saturday, breaking 21 minutes with the second-place time of 20:19 for the high-school boys’ 5K.

His teammates Jimmy Yi and Aaron Motis took the first- and third-place spots, respectively. White Mountain’s Lincoln Simon, Jr., and Edward Titus, Jr., took seventh and eighth.

In the girls’ race, Nome’s Mallory Conger, Starr Erickson, and Mary Fiskeaux swept the podium, in that order, with White Mountain’s Felicia Ione and Anjoli Agloinga not far behind in fourth and fifth.

But more noticeable than the competition was the camaraderie among and between the teams, with students from both schools running to different parts of the course to cheer each other on.

As Wassillie told me:

“All these kids know each other; they’ve been in sports together for a number of years, so it’s always a good time for them to see their friends, at least.”

Devin Tatro, co-head coach for Nome, agreed, and said she could see her team starting to bond.

“We were getting the boys together to huddle… And then a bunch of other members of the team said, ‘Oh, we want to jump in it.’ So the whole team jumped in the huddle and made room for everyone, made sure the younger athletes had a place in the circle. People don’t realize how much of a team sport cross-country actually is.”

After the races were run, the medals awarded, athletes from Nome and White Mountain alike played pick-up basketball in the school gym. They weren’t thinking about who beat who, or the Nome Cross-Country Invite next weekend, or the regional competitions coming up before the end of the month.

No — they were just friends having fun.

In White Mountain, I’m Gabe Colombo.

Image at top: The Nome and White Mountain cross-country running teams relax before the awards ceremony in the White Mountain School gym. Photo: Gabe Colombo, KNOM, 2017.