Kentucky — a state known for bourbon and fried chicken, but increasingly known also for running.
Despite the south being football country, and Kentucky specifically being basketball country, the ranks of top-notch young runners are swelling across the Bluegrass state.
In the past two weeks, cross-country season has ended with a bang in Louisville.
Derby City Athletic Club competed at AAU nationals in South Carolina Dec. 1, bringing home its third-consecutive runner-up title.
DCAC won the national title in 2009 and has been the runner up since then, narrowly losing the overall title to the California Comets.
All nine DCAC teams made it to the podium this year — top three — with more team and individual podium finishes than any other club.
Eight runners earned individual podium spots by finishing in the top eight.
Michaela Reinhart — easily one of the sweetest girls I’ve ever met — picked up a win in the 13-year-old division.
The same day, two Louisville teams competed at Nike Cross Nationals in Oregon.
Running under the Louisville Track Club banner, Assumption High School and St. Xavier High School took to the course-turned-pond in Portland.
The ladies from Assumption battled for tenth place, with a team average time of 21:38 — the course was so messy the winning time was 19:17.
In the boys’ race, St. X took 14th, led by a strong individual performance by Sam Lewis in 16th. Lewis ran 17:40, just 36 seconds off the day’s winning time.
On Dec. 8, Jacob Thompson headed to California to compete in the Foot Locker Cross Country Championships.
Thompson, a senior at tiny Holy Cross High School in Louisville, broke 15 minutes at the South regional qualifier, placing fourth and earning a trip out west.
In San Deigo, Thompson stayed with the lead pack until it separated into two groups going up a steep incline. Then he led the chase pack for the remainder of the race, placing fifth and helping the South region team take first place.
Thompson finished 15 seconds behind the winner.
Thompson’s fifth-place finish is — we think — the second-highest of any Kentucky runner.
Bobby Curtis placed third there in 2002.
Thompson’s time ranks third in the list of Kentucky Foot Locker performances, and it was his second time at the race after finishing 19th last year.
In addition to stellar youth performances, Louisville also had the honor of hosting NCAA Division 1 cross-country nationals in November.
It was amazing to see EP Tom Sawyer Park, one of Louisville’s gems, packed with elite runners from across the country.
And, AAU may bring its national meet here next year.
Despite the studies that show Kentucky to be one of the nation’s most obese states, our runners are making an impact.
Hopefully these young runners will continue their commitment to health and fitness — and encourage their own children years from now.
If so, maybe we can change the image of Kentucky — and the south — as an overweight, fried-food loving part of the country.