In a word, Parker Wolfe’s cross country season was interesting. With the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic last March, the question of whether or not Colorado would see a true cross country season lingered through the summer.
And in the middle of it, Wolfe got COVID. He battled through the virus and won. He then battled the Class 5A boys cross country field and won that too. He claimed the state championship with a time of 15 minutes, 10.4 seconds to break the record previously held by his friend Cole Sprout.
Just last week, he was named the Colorado Gatorade Player of the Year for cross country. And his performance didn’t go unnoticed through the rest of the country as he claimed the Gatorade National Player of the Year honor this week.
“It’s definitely a product of all the work I’ve put in,” Wolfe said. “I wasn’t planning on trying to get this award, exactly. It kind of just came from all the hard work and dedication I put in.”
That dedication started with recovery. COVID-19 has impacted a lot of people in a lot of different ways. Wolfe felt infection most in his lungs which wasn’t the best news he could have received as a runner heading into his senior season and looking forward to joining the cross country team at the University of North Carolina.
The lung issues were just the beginning and Wolfe found himself getting knocked down for an extended period of time.
“I was out for a good month with lung issues,” he said. “I had some heart issues right before my national race. I had enlarged arteries from COVID and I had to go in and get an IV to reduce the inflammation and dilation from those arteries.”
Fortunately, it didn’t cause him to miss a lot of the high school year and he took advantage of every opportunity to compete.
Adjustments were made as the overall style of the races were changed because of COVID. Rather than all competitors heading out at the same time, they were staggered and the races were conducted via time trials.
"I knew that it was mostly going to be myself racing against the clock," he said. "I had to change my strategy from race with a few people and sit back and wait or get out in front, it was kind of just go by yourself and see how you can run all alone for the whole race."
He took on the challenge and even thrived judging by the result of the state meet back on Oct. 17. His goal was to go sub-15, but he couldn't quite achieve that mark.
That won't have any bearing on his status of one of the state's all-time best runners. He is the third Colorado athlete win national cross country Player of the Year honors and the first boy in state history to do it. Air Academy's Katie Rainsberger won in 2016 and Grandview's Brie Oakley won the award just a year later.
"I think we always tend to be a very talented state with cross country," Wolfe said. "Being at altitude with going down to low altitude. I think it's really cool that I won this for the first time (for the boys). I think there are going to be more to come from this state. I think we have a lot of great athletes that are hopefully going to step in the next few years."
Wolfe is now the 11th Colorado high school athlete to claim Gatorade national honors and the second from Cherry Creek. Darnell McDonald won the Gatorade national baseball Player of the Year in 1997 before embarking on a career in Major League Baseball.
Should Wolfe follow suit, it won't be a surprise to see him doing remarkable things on a national or global scale when it comes to distance running.