Grace Schager: Cross Country Athlete Extraordinaire

On September 10, 2022, 17-year-old Grace Schager set a new distance and course record for the fastest time ever run by a high school girl in Illinois. Leading the GBN Girl’s Cross Country team over a three-mile distance, Grace ran with an impressive time of 16:00.2 at the Lake Park Invitational. “I still don’t think I’ve processed it,” Grace says. “It’s definitely a feeling of relief–I guess you could say relief and excitement.”

She began her running career in middle school. Grace had been a basketball player all her life and thought nothing much of track other than it would be fun to do with her best friend. But along the way, Grace fell in love with running and would come to continue it in high school. 

Her freshman year in track was rough: COVID ended most seasons before they could even begin. Despite this, Grace continued training from home. Per her coach’s advice, she joined cross country in her sophomore year of high school.

“I’ve been a basketball player all my life; my dad had always coached me, and then my best friend in middle school asked that I do track with her. So I said I would, and it was more of a fun thing back then, and then I realized that I actually don’t mind running long distances.”

The rest is history. Though expectations are daunting in terms of the remaining season, Grace grounds herself in “celebrating the little things.”

Certainly, her family, teammates, and coaches are all incredibly proud. Grace attributes her inspiration to her parents’ ardent support, especially when it comes to managing her schedule. As a student-athlete, Grace is required to maintain a certain GPA. Along with taking rigorous AP and honors courses, she is up early in the morning training at Fountain View Recreation Center, followed by hour-long practices after school.  

“It definitely takes a lot of planning, and I owe a lot to my support system with my coaches and my parents. [There’s] a lot of navigating when I’ll have time to do homework and then when I’ll have time to practice. It’s definitely long days, but I wouldn’t trade it for anything.”

Evidently, hard work pays off. But what drives Grace is the genuine love and passion she has for the sport. She especially enjoys summer training, when practice is usually centered around long-run, endurance-based exercises. “I’m a long-run girl, so I love it.”

Now a senior, Grace is making plans for after graduation. College applications have been stressful but exciting. Grace wants to continue cross country in college: “A career would be the dream.” In addition, she is considering majors in kinesiology or English and philosophy.  

When asked about advice she would like to give future cross country athletes, Grace concludes, “have patience, and enjoy what you’re doing. It’s a sport where you can’t force yourself to like it, so you really have to love it for what it is. And keep it fun!”