* Rawlins HS senior Sydney Thorvaldson earned Gatorade's highest honor on Wednesday
Photo Credit: MileSplit
"It's been a really strange time for a lot of people. To still have an opportunity to earn this award and race like I have, it's been really great. I've worked for this for awhile, so to see it your senior year, it's perfect timing, really." -- Sydney Thorvaldson
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Sydney Thorvaldson had to take a second on Wednesday to stop and think.
That after four years and four state titles and 35 cross country races won in Wyoming, everything had led up to this moment.
She was awarded Gatorade's highest honor, named National Cross Country Player of the Year for the 2021 season.
Gatorade has been naming national winners in cross country since 2007.
"All in all, it's been the best season I could ask for," Thorvaldson told MileSplit's Olivia Ekpone. "I think a lot of other people and others have stepped up and created opportunities for us to race. It's been big for me and I'm thankful for that."
Then again, she never was sure she would get it. A few other athletes from around the United States were certainly in contention for the honor as well.
Whomever won, she believed, would be deserving of it.
And then in a whoosh, it came.
Then she had to remind herself: She's from a town of less than 10,000 people, in a remote part of Wyoming where running isn't the most sought after activity.
None of this was preordained.
"A lot of people don't expect much from a small town like this," she said. "So it shows, if you want it, you can get it. I know we don't have huge weight rooms. We don't have tons of these facilities. We don't have an indoor track. We share the weight room with everyone. I hope it shows an example for future athletes."
But Thorvaldson always believed. From an early age, running was what she loved to do. The altitude, the mountains, the cold days and the impossible mornings, none of it ever bothered her.
Four years into her tenure, she was as dominant as ever.
Wednesday's win marked the first time since 2017 that the award went to someone other than Katelyn Tuohy -- who is the winningest athlete in Gatorade history.
For Thorvaldson, a University of Arkansas signee, it also marked her eighth Gatorade award in total, and the first at the national level. This past fall, she won two national invitationals, claiming wins at both the XC Town Meet of Champions and the Lubbock Christian University National Invite.
With no Nike Cross Nationals or Foot Locker Nationals, Thorvaldson made due with what was in front of her. And she kept winning.
"It's been a really strange time for a lot of people," she said. "To still have an opportunity to earn this award and race like I have, it's been really great. I've worked for this for awhile, so to see it your senior year, it's perfect timing, really."
Since 2017, she has won every single state Gatorade Cross Country Runner of the Year award. In track, she's claimed Gatorade's top state prize since 2018.
Nothing was sweeter than this one, though.
"This year out of all the years in cross country, this one was the one I had the most potential," she said. "So I was excited but I knew that if I didn't win, then it would go to someone who definitely deserved it. I would be excited for them as well. I was surprised in a good way."
Race after race this fall, the 5-foot-4 runner from Rawlins High School just kept winning.
Few high school girls in the United States were as dominant as the Wyoming-based phenom, who went undefeated across nine races over the cross country season.
In October, she claimed her fourth straight Wyoming Class 3A title, then would go on to win two more national-level races in Indiana and Texas. She largely set records at altitude, too, making accomplishments more significant.
But those results only backed up a tremendous career full of accomplishment: Thorvaldson won a total of 35 races over four years, never losing once on Wyoming soil.
She also was a three-time Nike Cross Nationals qualifier -- the event was canceled this past fall -- and finished as high as third in 2019 as a junior.
And so, the point is glaringly obvious: Competition never phased Thorvaldson.
Whether she was a first-year freshman or a savvy veteran, she always adjusted to her surroundings.
As the stakes raised in November and December, the Arkansas recruit always got better.
But perhaps her most impressive outing of 2021 came on Nov. 15 at the XC Town USA Meet of Champions.
Thorvaldson flew into Indianapolis, then traveled west to the Terre Haute course, a longtime NCAA Championship venue that featured some of the toughest conditions she would face this past fall.
So, too, would be the field.
Facing off against runners like Riley Stewart, Ava Parekh, Analee Weaver, Meghan Ford, Carmen Alder, Anna Fenske, Abbey Nechanicky and Tatum David -- several national qualifiers and All-Americans among them -- Thorvaldson managed to dominate anyway, running away early.
"All in all, it's been the best season I could ask for. I think a lot of other people and others have stepped up and created opportunities for us to race. It's been big for me and I'm thankful for that."
She captured a winning-time of 16:38.3 -- on a frigid and tough day overall -- which not only produced her first individual national invitational win, but in doing it also set a record on the course.
No high school girl had ever run faster in Terre Haute.
The performance would also go down as one of six under 17 minutes for 5,000 meters on the season in cross country, tying the most efforts under 17 on a season.
Coincidentally enough, 2021 was a special year. Both Denton Guyer's Brynn Brown and Science Hill's Jenna Hutchins -- who would go on to break 16 minutes in 15:58.42 in November -- also achieved the same feat this past fall.
To cap things off, Thorvaldson wasn't finished. In December she faced off against Brown, Mia Barnett, Sophie Atkinson, Abby Vanderkooi and Carlee Hansen at the Lubbock Christian University National Invite.
Thorvaldson captured yet another win in 16:23.85. It was her second-fastest run ever on a 5K cross country course, just behind her PR of 16:19 from the Heritage Distance Classic.
"It means so much," she said of the award. "I knew it would be a close decision, just because we've had so many amazing athletes, especially this season. And so, I think a lot of hard work went into this. To see that, and to see this is an award that stands for character and grades, it's really important to me. It's probably the highest award I can receive right now."
Thorvaldson is a member of the Rawlins High School student council, sports a 4.0 GPA and is part of the National Honor Society. She's donated her time as a teacher's aide at a local church and also volunteered toward local beautification projects around town.
Thorvaldson's 2-mile At adidas Indoor Nationals
Thorvaldson's Workout Wednesday From 2020
Gatorade National Cross Country Player Of The Year Winners Since 2007:
- 2020: Sydney Thorvaldson, Rawlins (WY), LCU National Invite
- 2019: Katelyn Tuohy, North Rockland (NY), NXN
- 2018: Katelyn Tuohy, North Rockland (NY), NXN
- 2017: Katelyn Tuohy, North Rockland (NY), NXN
- 2016: Brie Oakley, Grandview (CO), NXN
- 2015: Katie Rainsberger, Air Academy (CO), NXN
- 2014: Anna Rohrer, Mishawaka (IN), Foot Locker Nationals
- 2013: Alexa Efraimson, Camas (WA), NXN
- 2012: Sarah Baxter, Simi Valley (CA), NXN
- 2011: Molly Seidel, University Lake, Foot Locker Nationals
- 2010: Aisling Cuffe, Cornwall (NY), Foot Locker Nationals
- 2009: Megan Goethals, Rochester (WA), Foot Locker Nationals
- 2008: Jordan Hasay, Mission College Prep (CA), Foot Locker Nationals
- 2007: Ashley Brasovan, Wellington (FL), Foot Locker Nationals
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