What Was It Like To Fall Just Steps Away From A State XC Title

"I had just caught up with Rachel [Rose] and the win was within reach. We were neck and neck within 100 yards of the finish line and then I fell." -- James River High graduate Kristen Wolfe remembering and speaking about her unfortunate fall at the the VHSL Cross Country Championships in 2006. 

It has now been nearly 11 years since that fall and it has been forgotten by many.

But it shouldn't.

Kristen Wolfe's story is emblematic of what many young athletes go through even today, especially on the girls side. 

Kristen, a 2008 graduate of James River (VA) High who won an AAA state track title as a freshman, had a standout career that few now in the central region still remember to this day.

She was gained regional championships in multiple events multiple times, and like many before her and after her, she was a star that burned bright early. 

But she could never quite reach that level again. 

After her very quick time of 2:57.02 in the 1K at the state indoor championships, she was never able to go that fast or get back on top of the winner's stand.

Whether that was due to training, over-racing, strategy, growing pains, loss of a mental edge, or just bad luck is up for debate, but Kristen still competed at a high level all through high school. 

Sometimes, she just couldn't catch a break. 

After that successful freshman campaign, things were looking good. She was now the leader of her XC team, one that was coming off of three great years at the state meet. She was going to bring them back to the podium.

In her sophomore season she did just that, winning the central region title and leading her team back to Great Meadow. She posted some fast times and went on to finish a solid fourth at the state meet with her 18:19 time. 

As a junior, Kristen was poised for a breakout year. It started out with major wins at Maymont, William & Mary and a huge PR at the Central Region Championships, breaking 18 minutes for the first time with her meet record 17:58 performance.

That meant she headed into the state meet as the favorite, despite Rachel Rose being the defending champion. Kristen had faced tough competitions and performed well at every stage. It was her turn to take home a state XC title and prove she was more than just a freshman phenom. 

"I remember being very nervous that day," she said. "I really wanted to win. It was a strong field of runners so I knew it was going to be a good race." 

Kristen and crew were in for a tough one. The weather was very humid and during their race it seemed to have been the hottest it was all day. Nonetheless, the girls were all competitors and ready to fight.

The pace was tough from the start and Rose was fearless to push the pace just weeks after suffering double stress fractures. 

"When the race started, I felt a little 'off' and knew I was going to have to dig deep to compete with [those] top girls," Kristen said.  It was a tough race and mentally I had to push through. I remember Rachel Rose had the lead going into that last 1/4 mile, then I remember just going into a different gear. I closed in on Rachel and we were neck and neck within 100 yards of the finish and then I fell.

"I had just caught her and the win was within reach, I had kicked it into a different gear and wanted to win badly then I fell and it was just a big blur from there." 

"I got up and went down multiple times," Kristen continued. "I tried moving my legs but just couldn't. I didn't know what was going on, it was a really eerie feeling. I remember the cheers and support from the crowd and that pushed me through. I crawled and finally crossed the line."  

Kristen did ultimately finish the race despite facing, and later being treated for severe dehydration, in 40th place with a time of 20:25.  

"That fall taught me that it isn't just your training that will help you succeed, you need to make sure you take care of yourself and listen to your body," she said. "Eat right, drink lots of water, and take rest when you need it. It taught [me] some good lessons too that I took with me from the point forward -- to push through when it's tough, fight for what you want, and don't give up."

Kristen may not have achieved some of the goals she wanted, but she dealt with big expectations -- as a freshman phenom -- the best way one can.

"I think it just put things into perspective for me (on winning a state title as a freshman)," she said. "I remember thinking 'OK, maybe I'm on to something here and can compete with the top girls. That was exciting but I also put some pressure on myself. I don't know what I would have done differently to be honest... {aside from} obviously I wish I would have drank some more water that day but honestly, like I said previously, it left me with some great lessons. 

"I was able to preserve and fight harder to stay in the competition with some amazing runners for the remainder of my high school career." 

Turning the tables a bit, at the end of our interview we asked Kristen what she would do or say if she were a coach coaching an athlete such as herself.

"I would just make sure they don't change up their normal routine that got them to states in the first place and to make sure they take care of themselves. Don't stress too much, eat right, hydrate and rest when needed. Trust the work you have put in to get you there and know that you deserve to be there...and then dig deep to get the result you want. And if they do fall, I would just be there to support them (as my coaches were for me) and help them shake it off and move forward with a strong frame of mind."

Kristen Wolfe did just that.

In following years she went on to run a new PR of 17:49 at Glory Days Grill Invitational and finish all-state  in 11th place at states.

She then signed with the College of Charleston and won two Southern Conference titles in the 3K steeplechase with a personal best time of 10:42.