Sydney Thorvaldson Speaks With LetsRun.com After Being Named 2020-21 Gatorade National Girls Cross Country Runner of the Year

By Jonathan Gault
April 15, 2021

The 2020 high school cross country season was unlike any in recent memory. Several states did not hold competitions last fall. The Foot Locker Cross Country Championships and Nike Cross Nationals, the two biggest meets of the year, were cancelled. And, for the first time since 2014, Katelyn Tuohy was not running high school races.

Despite all that, we witnessed some incredible performances. On November 15, Sydney Thorvaldson of Rawlins, Wyo., ran 16:38 to win the XC Town USA Meet of Champions in Terre Haute by a massive 40 seconds. A week later, at the RunningLane Cross Country Championships, another meet that sprung up to fill the FL/NXN void, Jenna Hutchins of Johnson City, Tenn., made history by becoming the first high school girl to break 16:00 on a 5k cross country course. Not to be outdone, Thorvaldson responded with another dominant victory — this time over 9:39 3200 runner Brynn Brown — by winning the High School Cross Country National Invite in Texas by 27 seconds.

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Both Thorvaldson, a senior, and Hutchins, a junior, posted undefeated seasons and neither raced the other, making it hard to separate the two. Yesterday, Gatorade announced that Thorvaldson had been named 2020-21 Gatorade National Girls Cross Country Player of the Year, succeeding Tuohy, now at NC State, who won the last three awards. Thorvaldson and Hutchins should get an opportunity to race in college; Thorvaldson will run for Arkansas, the 2019 NCAA XC champions, this fall, while Hutchins is headed to BYU, the 2020 NCAA XC champions, in 2022.

Thorvaldson, who owns personal best of 4:43 and 9:47 in the mile and 2-mile, has not raced since winning the 2-mile at adidas Indoor Nationals on February 28 as she is currently sidelined with a stress reaction. On Wednesday, she made time to speak with LetsRun.com via Zoom shortly after she was surprised at her school with the news of her Gatorade award.

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Thorvaldson with her coaches at Rawlins (Wyo.) High School (Courtesy Gatorade)

LRC: You had a great season last fall in cross country. What was the biggest, most meaningful win for you, and why?

ST: I really enjoyed racing on the national level the times that I did. But I think I have to say the most memorable race for me was probably state (the Wyoming 3A state meet). Just because it was senior year and just to win it consecutively four times, all the times I’ve been in high school, was really big for me. To finish the season with my team, it kind of seemed a bit more normal. So I think that was the race I’ll remember.

What about the 2021 track season, what sort of goals do you have this spring?

It’s been tough right now, I’ve been kind of dealing with injury. So for me, it’s been a lot of cross training, which is part of the sport, so I really can’t do anything about that. But as soon as I’m healthy, I’d love to just go out and compete and see what I can do. I just want to really enjoy it, it’s my senior season.

What’s the injury?

I just had a stress reaction thing in my foot, so we’re just kind of dealing as best as we can. 

One of the other athletes who has been running really well this year is Jenna Hutchins. You haven’t raced her yet, have you?

No, not this year. 

Is that something you think is possible? Do you want to race her this year before you graduate?

I think it would be a lot of fun to race with her, yeah. Hopefully we’ll push each other to race at our best. I think that would be a lot of fun if given the opportunity.

Any particular distance in mind?

[smiles] Nope, not for me.

This fall you’ll be heading off to Arkansas. Why did you choose there?

It was a tough recruiting process, I guess, since I couldn’t take my official visits. But I took an unofficial visit there and just fell in love with it. The community was great, I think there’s a lot of support. And the team and the coach, everything just seemed like it’s exactly what I wanted in a college.

When did you take that unofficial visit?

It was probably in the middle of my cross country season. I don’t remember the exact date. But I just kind of fit it in, was able to run a bit there and meet some people. Not the coach, but we talked over the phone.

Oh you didn’t get to meet Coach Harter then?

On an unofficial visit, you can’t have contact with the coach — just NCAA rules. So no. But it was crazy because we were so close but [couldn’t meet in person].

So Arkansas — that’s pretty much sea level. You’re at altitude out in Wyoming (Rawlins is situated at 6,834 feet). Did you really want to leave altitude? Did you want to run at a sea-level school? Or did that not factor into your decision?

For me, I really think altitude has helped me, so I thought it would be cool to run at altitude. But looking further, I was like, their training kind of proves itself. They’ve produced a lot of great athletes. And I think it will be a nice change for me. They’re also talking about how I’m going to have to battle the humidity, which is something that I haven’t really dealt with a lot. So I’m thinking that will be a challenge for me — a good challenge.

Between cross country and track, which one do you prefer and why?

I’d have to say cross country. I really do enjoy cross country. It’s more just brutal, honest racing. The courses are tough, and it’s a longer distance, which I particularly prefer. And it’s not just running in circles, which is kind of nice sometimes even though racing on the track can be very fun. 

Are you a fan of the professional side of the sport? Are there any runners that you follow that you look up to?

Yeah I really enjoy watching and just following them on social media. I like to follow Emma Coburn and her Team Boss and everything. And also Colleen Quigley and the Bowerman Babes. I like following them, they’re really inspirational.

So that’s a couple of steeplechasers. Have you run the steeple or have any interest in that event?

I have not. I think it would be fun to try it maybe, but we don’t even have that option here or really anywhere around here. It would be fun to try it though!

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