Aalanna Ramona Rusnak will be graduating from Our Lady of Fatima Catholic School next summer as a cross-country champion.
Rusnak completed the 3-km BHNCDSB Haldimand Norfolk cross-country course in Simcoe on Oct. 23rd first overall in the senior girls division with a time of 13:01, a full 46 seconds ahead of runner-up Halayna Montrichard of Notre Dame.
“It was a really muddy trail – with hills and steep trails,” said Rusnak, recalling conditions at the Lynn Trail on the 23rd.
“It rained that morning, too. I almost fell a couple times,” she smiled.
The 13-year-old Grade 8 student, who has dominated in the sport winning five consecutive cross-country first-place medals since Grade 4, took 16 seconds off her best time at the 3-km distance.
“We were 45 in senior girls,” said Rusnak, who was running with two Fatima teammates – Gracie Arthur 15th and Holly Drinkwater 34th, “and we started at the baseball field.”
The runners needed to sprint at the start, coming to a hill and then narrow trail through trees.
“If you don’t get ahead, then you’re going to get trapped behind all the people,” Rusnak noted. “So you really have to sprint to get in there. One year a girl actually fell and it was such a block-up.”
Better at using her stamina rather than sprinting speed, Rusnak was still able to make good time early on. She was second at the first hill.
“I really wanted to get ahead so I could stay ahead. I wanted to pass her, so as soon as we got up to that first hill, after the trail narrowed, I ran partway into the forest to get around her. I had to, to get ahead. It was really narrow, so I had to jump to get around her.”
She stayed ahead the rest of the race.
After completing the first loop, she had a brief moment to look back around the curve to see her closest competition.
“I don’t think it was the same girl that was in first place.”
After completing the second loop, Rusnak had extended her lead and didn’t see anyone behind her at the curve.
After five cross-country wins, Rusnak said the most memorable might have her first in Grade 4, and the last, winning by 46 seconds.
“The first one I was against Grade 4, 5 and 6, so I was the youngest.”
She also recalled a race, either in Grade 5 or 6, when a mixup led to girls taking wrong turns on the trail.
“I was trying to find my way – we all went different ways on the trail. So we had to run it again, and I think at that point I had already run 3 kilometres, and it was only a 1.5 km race! I was pretty exhausted, but then I just pushed myself to win.”
Rusnak still loves the sport and plans to continue cross-country next year in high school.
“It’s really hard to practice and push yourself, and you feel like you’re going to throw up, and your legs are hurting while you’re running, but in a way that’s what I like about it – that challenge that is constantly there.”
Also a competitive figure skater, Rusnak said the two sports help each other when it comes to conditioning.
“I think it goes both ways because in figure skating, for off-ice we run a lot, so that helps with my training for cross-country.”
Her biggest challenge, she quickly admits, is overcoming nerves.
“Leading up to the race I’ll just be like a basket-case for nerves. I feel like this year it was one of the times being the most nervous because I had pressure from myself. Not my parents, not my teachers, no one, just myself wanting to win for the fifth time in a row.”
Leading up to it, and knowing it was her last elementary school cross-country race, she wanted to start training early.
“I wanted to train. I always tell myself that a month in advance I’m going to train a lot, but… of course that doesn’t happen because I’m so busy. So I’d say like two weeks before, when I didn’t have skating that night, I’d run. That’s not very often either.”