ALBERT LEA -- Chrissy Monson works hard, trains hard and loves to run. But the Albert Lea junior is learning that the work of being an elite athlete can sometimes interfere with the fun. An important reminder came early this spring.
Monson made a big splash at last year’s state track championships, outpacing some of the state’s headliners in winning the Class 2A 1,600 meters. She finished third in the 3,200 at state last year; she also ran those events at state as an eighth-grader and ninth-grader.
But she had a disappointing cross-country season last fall, was coming off an injury when the spring track season began and did not win her first outdoor 1,600 race of 2012. There was a reason for that.
“One of our captains, Ashley Tewes, said to me, ‘Chrissy, your parents have been trying to tell you but you just aren’t seeing it. You’re getting too worked up, you’re getting too involved. You need to smile. I’ve never seen you run a race without a smile on your face, and you haven’t had that. There’s something different.’ ”
Chrissy was smiling as she told me that story last week during a four-team meet at Hammer Field. But then, she almost always is smiling. When she doesn’t smile, people notice.
“I think it was kind of a rocky winter,” she said. “My dad was like, ‘Chrissy, smile. This is fun, that’s why you do it.’ I have great support that can get me focused. I have so many different people looking out for me. I love the sport and I’ve met so many great people and have had so many great opportunities. Obviously I want to be the best I can but I don’t want to get caught up in it.”
As an eighth-grader Monson placed seventh in the 3,200 and 13th in the 1,600 at state. As a freshmen she finished third (3,200) and sixth (1,600). Last year’s big-school title in the 1,600 catapulted her into the top echelon of Minnesota milers, and she is continually committed to improving.
“She’s totally focused,” said Albert Lea coach Margo Wayne. “She eats, lives and breathes track and running. She’s a wonderful spokesman and role model and just does everything right from the amount of sleep she gets to what she eats to how she trains. She is the whole package.”
My first chat with Chrissy came after she outdueled Shakopee’s Maria Hauger and Alexandria’s Jamie Piepenberg to win the 2A 1,600 last year at Hamline University’s Klas Field. Her father, Maurie, was cheering near the finish line and their embrace after Chrissy’s victory is one of the scenes that endures from that day. When I was in Albert Lea last week – where Chrissy won the 1,600 and 3,200 against competition from Rochester Mayo, Winona and Owatonna -- athlete and father continued the tradition of post-race hugs.
Chrissy has not run as well as she would like in the early part of the season, but she knows that thousands of strides remain to be taken before the state meet June 8-9. In past seasons she would often scan the statewide honor rolls, checking the competition. She doesn’t do that any more.
“I think it was always like, ‘Where can I go next?’ I told myself, ‘You are there. Act like it. Present yourself like it. Don’t get cocky.’ My dad checks (the honor rolls) and I’ll ask him what’s going on?
“He’ll say, ‘Some girls are running some really fast times and you’re not running as fast as they are.’ He’ll tell me, straight out. And I’ll say, ‘OK, let’s do some crunches!’
That’s the kind of commitment that builds state champions. Wayne, however, said Monson can sometimes push herself too hard.
“We talk about that a lot,” the coach said. “If she feels fairly fresh after a workout, she thinks, ‘Should I be doing more?’ It can hard to convince her, ‘Nope, you’re done. That’s your workout.’ ”
The competition among female distance runners in Minnesota is historically strong. Hauger and Piepenberg have battled each other for numerous state tites on the track and in cross-country, and Monson has inserted herself into the discussion. She said the transformation from young unknown to state champion was as simple as trying to run faster than the competition.
“It’s kind of strange,” she said. “I came in as a seventh-grader, eighth-grader, just thrown into varsity right away. No one knew who I was. There was this little girl, ‘Is she in the wrong race?’ All I was trying to do was get the next person. The people in the running world are amazing. Everyone who competes is a down-to-earth, great person. Just getting to know the people has made me want to be that sort of person. I can see that they have fun, they love what they do and they have a passion. I wanted to get that passion, and I have gotten there.
“I want everyone to do their best, and I obviously hope my best is better.”
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