This season, Gray won the UIL Class 5A state championship in cross-country to add to her two state titles in track for the 3200-meter and the 1600-meter events. Gray’s state title in November qualified her for two national meets: the Nike Cross Nationals in Portland, Oregon, and the Foot Locker Cross Country Nationals in San Diego. She finished 21st in Portland and 18th in San Diego.
For Gray, winning the state title in cross-country was especially rewarding. In previous attempts, she kept coming up just short.
“I've always wanted to get a state title,” says Gray. “In years past, I haven't done as well when it comes down to that certain meet. So it was a great thing to finally accomplish and overcome.”
Overcoming obstacles is something Gray has had to do often.
Her coach, Brian Ricketts, remembers the moment he was most proud of Gray. Almost one year ago, before the state track meet, Gray developed mononucleosis. The illness forced her to miss two months of the season. And yet Gray still competed in the meet, where she finished first, bringing home the state championship.
“She said she wasn’t feeling real good, and then she got tested and she had mono,” says Ricketts. “For her to overcome mono and still be able to train was pretty neat. It was a culmination of a lot of hard work.”
Gray’s success in high school goes back to when her coach first saw her in middle school. Coach Ricketts, a nine-year coach at Alamo Heights High School, was impressed at Gray’s speed.
“She was fast for an 8th grader,” says Ricketts. “A lot of times girls are faster earlier, and then they get slower, and boys are kinda the opposite. But she’s continued to improve a ton.”
“It was hard at first sticking to it and running every single day, and not skipping a day just because I didn’t want to go out and run,” says Gray. “The main thing that I love most is in other sports you need a ball or some type of object, but with running, you can really walk out the door and just do it.”
In January, Gray was named the Gatorade Texas Girls Cross Country Runner of the Year. Winners were selected based on athletic performance, as well as high academic achievement and exemplary character.
Her coach has spent so much time with Gray both on and off the track and clearly understands why she won this honorable award.
“I’ve seen people that have the talent, but not the work ethic, and I’ve seen people with really strong work ethic, that just don’t have the natural ability. She has off the charts of both,” says Ricketts. “As good of a runner, she’s an even better person. At the end of meets that she wins, she stands at the finish line and high fives everyone that comes through, even to the last person.”
Gray has committed to run at the University of Arkansas next year. The Razorbacks women’s track and field team is currently ranked first in the nation, and Gray hopes to continue to improve at one of the country’s elite programs.
“I think there may always be someone better than me,” says Gray. “But I think that I’m going to work as hard or harder than anyone else to become the best.”
Photos: TXMilesplit.com (action), Bryan Gray (with coach)