Published: Monday, October 15, 2012
Updated: Monday, October 15, 2012 01:10
Photo courtesy of UNC Sports Information
UNC freshman Rikki Gonzales runs during a meet earlier this season. Gonzales has finished first for UNC in every race this year.
Freshman runner Rikki Gonzales is putting cross country on the map at UNC one race at a time.
The long-distance speedster, who earlier this year became the program’s first runner named Big Sky Athlete of the Week, has finished first among
University of Northern Colorado competitors in each of the races she’s run this season — and she’s just getting started.
UNC head coach Amanda Schick said she thinks Gonzales has shown strides in grasping the mental aspect of running cross country, and she will continue to improve during her time as a Bear.
“She’s becoming so much smarter,” Schick said. “She’s understanding the race, and she’s understanding her own athleticism and how to apply it strategically to run with these girls who, in the conference and in the region, are some of the best girls in the nation.”
Gonzales said she has had to adjust quite a bit to the college running routine, which is much more rigorous than what she had at Rangeview High School in Aurora. At Rangeview, she was an all-state athlete for three years and earned all-conference honors each of her four years there.
“It’s definitely been a change,” she said. “Practice, for one thing, is a lot harder than high school, obviously because it’s at a higher level. Our mileage has increased by so much compared to high school. We ran maybe 20 miles a week, and now we’ve doubled that.”
One exercise she learned in high school, however, has helped her find comfort in what many would consider the most difficult part of cross country running.
“In high school, we did hills all the time,” Gonzales said. “I just feel really strong when I go up hills. I considered myself a strength runner, not an endurance runner. I didn’t have as much endurance as I do now, so I still go back to my old ways when it comes to the hills.”
Distance coach John Gutierrez said he can see the strength Gonzales possesses as she pushes up hills in competition.
“She’s naturally strong,” he said of the young runner. “Her dad is a 10-time world champion power lifter. She’s just a naturally gifted, strong person. You can see it in the hills.”
Senior teammate Megan Horsch said she is pushed in practice and competition more by Gonzales than anyone she has seen in her five years at UNC, as she was granted a redshirt in 2011 after a breakout 2010 season.
“You can just see it every day at practice,” Horsch said. “She takes it one day at a time and just really gets focused on every workout. She puts everything into it that she has, and I really admire that about her.”
Gonzales said an important part of running is finding the motivation to push oneself. She said she finds her inspiration in others and their struggles.
“It’s kind of irrelevant to running, but it gives me motivation to run,” she said.
“The movie theater shooting — I knew a lot of people there. A lot of the time, I think about doing it for them or the people who have never been able to accomplish their dreams or go after what they want, so that pushes me some more.”
Gonzales, Horsch and the rest of the Bears’ cross country team will certainly use much of their emotional motivation in their final competition of the year Oct. 27 in Flagstaff, Ariz. for the Big Sky Championship.