This winter, Julia Wood, an eighth-grade Rappahannock County High School Panther cross country runner, clawed her way to the National Junior Olympic Cross Country Championships in Myrtle Beach, S.C., where she finished in the top 20 percent.
To qualify for the Dec. 10 nationwide competition, Wood had to earn her slot. “There were two preliminary meets,” she said, “state and regional, with six states. You had to place in the top 20 of both those events to qualify to participate. I did that back in the fall.”
With nervous energy temporarily contained, Wood took the starting line alongside almost 300 other 13- and 14-year-old girls. “We started out with everyone spread out on a long line,” she said. “When the race started, you had to bolt ahead and try to get in the front. With all those girls, some were just falling down, causing runners to do a heroic hurdle over the person who just fell. Everyone was so close that you were just getting tripped up. I crossed my fingers that I wouldn’t fall.
“My plan was to start moderately fast,” Wood said. “I’ve discovered if I start really hard, I don’t keep my stamina. But I had to start faster than I wanted because of the positioning. You had to start off hard and keep that pace to stay up with the top 100.
“There were two loops and, the second time around the loop, some girl tripped me,” she said. “I lost a lot of time there. I didn’t fall flat, thank goodness.
“At the very end, with the last half mile to go,” Wood said. “I was about 75th or 80th. I laid the whole race out on the line, but I laid out that last bit even more and gained around 20 places. There was a girl near me, and we had a sprint-off near the end. I finished 66th!
“My time was exactly where it should’ve been. If I hadn’t gotten trapped behind people, I might’ve shaved off a little time, but not that much. I was pretty proud of myself because I knew I’d done the best I could do.”
Wood credits her RCHS coaches James Sharpe and Mark Ramey for the ultimate assist in her success. “Oct. 26 was the end of our regular season. Even with Amrit Tamang training for states until mid-November, the coaches held practices until Dec. 8. They pushed me when I needed to be pushed and made me be careful when I needed to slow down and take a break. I wouldn’t have gotten there without them.
Angela Wood, Julia’s mother, echoed her daughter’s acknowledgement of the coaches: “They contribute so much beyond anything expected of them. Julia’s success is very much a result of their dedication as coaches and mentors.”
“Julia is internally driven to do her best,” said Sharpe. “She doesn’t need other people to tell her when to start; doesn’t rely on her friends to go out and exercise. She’ll be outside in the freezing cold, running in the snow. One of the great things about cross country is that you can always get a faster time – and that’s a great motivator for someone who is internally driven.
“This was Julia’s second year going to states,” he said. “Although the course was longer this year (though still shorter than the varsity 5Ks that she’s been training on), Myrtle Beach was both the regional and state site, so she got to scope out the course before she got to states. She made a plan for how to run her race to avoid getting boxed in early or running out of energy late in the race, and she stuck to the plan on race day.
“Julia’s coaches and everyone are very proud of her,” Sharpe said, “and we are all happy to see that her hard work has paid off.”