National champion

SYRACUSE, N.Y.-Winning a major championship is the elusive goal of every high school athlete. Friends, family and coaches always want athletes to aim high and succeed in a major way, but understand that true championship glory is a dream that may come to fruition.

For one former Alpena athlete, that dream has come true. In a big way.

Elaine Lowe, a former Alpena cross country and track runner, won the USCAA Cross Country National Championship last Friday. She ran for Cleary University in the six kilometer run and beat out 150 athletes from 17 different schools with a time of 23:07.

“I was really excited (when I won). I guess it’s hard to explain the feeling, but I wasn’t expecting to come and win the nationals as a freshman,” she said.

Lowe far outpaced her competitors in the event. Her nearest competitor, Mackenzie Donahue of Daemen, was nearly 30 seconds behind her. Her win helped Cleary take fifth overall.

Lowe’s national championship win caps off an incredible rebound for one of Alpena’s star athletes. In 2010, Lowe was diagnosed with Stage II Hodgkin’s lymphoma, a disease she successfully beat.

“I’ll tell you what, she’s earned everything she’s gotten. She’s a tremendously hard worker. It made her a great running partner. She was always up for a run, no matter if it was five in the morning or nine at nine. The one thing they say you can’t coach is heart and she’s got a lot of heart,” ACC cross country coach Mark Jacobs, a former coach of Lowe’s, said.

Cleary, a business focused college located in Howell, has a cross country program that is still very young. The cross country team is only in its second year. Last year, it had two runners, while this year, Lowe is one of seven runners.

“I feel like we were all doing fairly well (before the championships). We were doing better and placing as a team. With more people on the team, we’re actually able to compete as a team and we’ve been doing pretty good,” Lowe said.

The incredibly poor weather conditions prior to and during the race may have helped contribute to Lowe’s win.

“The day before the race, it was raining and it made the course really muddy. It was actually snowing on the day of the race. Most of the teams in the race came from Texas, Arizona, and Florida where it’s always really nice. Since we’re used to (running in those conditions), it was more of an advantage. We know how to run in those conditions,” Lowe said.

Lowe did not begin the race in the lead. Her coach had given her the advice to stay behind a few runners and slowly work her way up through the pack.

This advice was intended to make Lowe’s first national run fairly easy going, one that wouldn’t push the limits of her endurance too harshly.

She quickly discarded that advice.

“After about 400 meters, I felt like I was going too slow, even though I had been taking the whole race at a pretty medium pace. But, I felt like I should push myself a little harder and see what happened,” she said.

Lowe ran for the Alpena High School cross country team and ran indoor and outdoor track for three years. Her specialty was grueling long distance runs, with the 3,200 meter as her primary race.

Her biggest successes, prior to her national win, were a fifth-place finish in the 3,200 relay at last year’s state finals and setting the girls 3,200 record for Alpena.

“One of the best days of my life was on Friday (when she won). I was just so excited, everything came together for her. All her hard work and struggling finally paid off in a big way,” Jacobs said.

Lowe is already looking ahead to next year’s event, and doesn’t doubt the possibility of a future championship with her team.

“I’ll definitely push for it. It’s not that far off and I feel like I can do it again. I just know next year that people will be going out to try to beat me, so I’m going to have to train harder and decrease my time to stay competitive,” she said.