The pressure was on for 17-year-old Allie Parks. It was the Colorado4A state cross-country meet and she was back to defend her title or lose it.
“It was a lot scarier; I knew what I would be missing out on if I didn’t make it there again,” Parks said about going into the final meet.
Many had hinted to her about having a repeat, and after she ran her season, she found herself once again where she was a year before. Parks said many things could have gone wrong, but it all ended up falling into place as she went on to repeat as state champion.
Fast-forward to Sept. 17 in Bozeman and the Colorado native found herself in a whole new world.
She was representing the University of Montana as a freshman Division I runner going up against more than 100 other women who were running for the same finish line. The team’s only senior,Kesslee Payne, was unable to run due to injury and Ani Haas was still waiting on word from the NCAA on her eligibility status, leaving Parks and five others to represent Montana.
Before the race started, she felt her heart beating, the unknown loomed before her, and she said she heard a silence settle over everyone. Her one goal was to run a race that would be memorable and a moment she would be proud of looking back on.
The starting gun fired.
When she finished her three miles in 18:39, Parks had no idea where she finished overall. She saw fellow freshman Carly Wilczynski in front of her and sophomore Keli Dennehy a few times, but thought she finished in the mid-twenties, so she was shocked to hear that she finished 10th out of 104 runners.
“Collegiate running is really humbling because you’re all of a sudden working harder than you have before,” Parks said on the difference between collegiate running versus high school. “It’s all of a sudden being in a shark tank after being in a pond full of minnows, it’s a big jump. It’s inspiring. It makes me want to be a shark, too.”
Everyone was excited about their performances, Parks said, especially head coach Courtney Babcock. Parks said she was positive about the women’s performance and proud of where everyone finished in the first meet of the season.
Babcock’s positive mentality and enthusiasm attracted Parks to the University her senior year of high school. Once the offers started pouring in from different schools, she had several options: the University of Kansas, Colorado State, Mesa State, Oregon State, the University of Montana and Montana State. Her options were varied, but she was drawn toward Montana for its positive energy from the athletes and Babcock.
On the days that are strenuous in practice or life, Parks recalls her trips down to Costa Rica and Guatemala with her church, First Congregational. In both countries, she helped build houses for families. Carrying all of the heavy materials in the heat to the houses gave her a mental toughness, she said — something that she carries with her today.
“I think about those people all the time. They have so little, but they act like they have so much,” Parks said. “They helped us more than we helped them.”
She took away character traits like selflessness, learned to not be materialistic and gained the perspective that when she thinks she’s having a bad day, to always think what the people of Costa Rica and Guatemala’s bad days must feel like.
During her years in high school, Parks never imagined she would be crowned a back-to-back 4A state cross country champion — a feat never to be accomplished by a woman in her Colorado county. The four years of training paid off for her in high school and launched her into four more years of collegiate chances.
For now, Parks will continue swimming with the sharks.