Brie Oakley, who only started running competitively 18 months ago, has been named the national girls cross country runner of the year.
Oakley, a Grandview senior, was presented with the award by Gatorade in a ceremony at her school on Tuesday.
“It’s just amazing,” Oakley said of winning the award. “So few people get this award, so to be one of those people is really humbling and just such an honor to be recognized.”
She is the second Colorado girl to ever win the award since it began in 2008. And it’s actually the second-straight season the winner of the award is from Colorado. Air Academy’s Katie Rainsberger won last season.
On Tuesday, Oakley was surprised with the news in the middle of her statistics class, where they were pondering the probability of her being named the Colorado girls cross country runner of the year — which she was last week. Another student in the class then raised her hand and asked, “What’s the probability Brie would win the national Gatorade girls runner of the year award?”
“I was like, ‘That’s kind of weird,'” Oakley said.
Her teacher responded, “It’s 100 percent.” And then Molly Huddle, a two-time Olympian and the American record holder in the 10,000 meters, walked in with the trophy, along with Oakley’s parents, her coach, and her teammates.
“I feel really dumb now, just thinking back, like, why didn’t I pick up on that?” Oakley said with a laugh.
This award follows an incredible season in which she set the course record at the Liberty Bell, won the Class 5A state meet, won the NXN Southwest Regionals, and then became a national champion by winning the Nike Cross Nationals Finals. Oakley was unbeaten during the cross country season.
“Just looking back on it, I’m kind of in shock how much I was able to accomplish in such little time,” Oakley said. “It just feels like it went by so fast, but I can remember every single race, what I felt like, and just how determined I was.
“I just wanted to do the best I could, not just for me, but for everyone else,” she added. “I just wanted to really inspire people. I just love when I can go out and make people proud.”
Oakley, a former soccer player, burst onto the scene last fall as a junior when she finished runner-up in her first-ever 5A state meet. She then went on to star at the state track meet in the spring, breaking a 26-year-old record in the 3,200-meter race, and also winning the 1,600.
It’s been an exponential level of improvement.
“It’s straight up, don’t you think? It’s a vertical ascent,” Grandview cross country coach Allyson Robbins said with a laugh. “Obviously, she was playing soccer very competitively, so she was a fit kid, and she had run some road races. I think they had a pretty good idea that she was pretty talented.”
Oakley said her dad has recently told her that he “always knew you were a runner.”
“I did a couple of 5Ks when I was little, and I would always run to stay in shape for soccer. But that obviously wasn’t going out to run eight miles, or something,” Oakley said. “Once I started going full into running, I think I just realized, ‘Wow, this is the sport for me.’ I love soccer, and I do miss it sometimes, but switching to running, I think I really realized that this is the sport for me, this is what I want to do, and I can really shine here.”
Huddle, the two-time Olympian, said she was impressed by Oakley’s success in such a short time.
“It’s one thing, for the shorter events, to have success right away, but to just be running a year-and-a-half and win a 5K cross country, go undefeated all year, win the national championship, that’s pretty exciting for her future,” Huddle said. “That’s definitely a sign of her potential.
“The sky’s the limit, really,” Huddle continued. “It will be really interesting to see how good she can get with some really consistent training under her belt. But when you see that kind of endurance talent, it’s pretty exciting to see.
“I think you’ll be hearing Brie’s name for a while in the record books,” Huddle added.