Pair of Cloquet runners run races of their lives, advance to state meetCloquet cross country runners Erik Swanson and Halee Peterson advance to state.
By: Tyler Korby, Pine Journal
As a freshman, Erik Swanson joined cross country just in hopes of staying in shape. He wanted to heal his injury and get back to football. Or so he thought.
He’s hasn’t touched a football field since.
Last Thursday, the sophomore speedster ran the cross country race of his life at the Section 7AA Meet in Princeton, Minn., and set a personal-best time, placed eighth and advancing to state.
Just over a year since he first tried competitive running, the former football player has jumped to the top of the charts. And when asked if he’d ever thought could even happen, Swanson answered quickly.
“Nope,” he said with a smile Friday. “I guess I figured out I could go somewhere with it. I put a lot of work into it and I guess it paid off.”
Swanson’s historic day on the trails began slowly, as he stayed with the pack throughout the majority of the 5,000-meter race. He made his move with about 1,200 meters to go.
“There was a moment where it was just all about guts,” said Cloquet coach Mike Bushey, who watched the entire race. “He made a decision that he wanted to go for it.”
Swanson made a substantial climb through the herd as things started to pick up at the finish. By the time he was done, he was on his way to state.
“I was seeded 13th and I knew I didn’t want to end there,” said Swanson. “I just climbed my way through the pack and ended up in eighth.”
Adam Zutz of St. Francis defended his 2009 Class AA section title, and both Zutz and Swanson will compete again at the state meet on Saturday at St. Olaf College.
“It didn’t even look like [Zutz] was sweating, it was like a jog or a walk in the park,” laughed Swanson. “One day – hopefully I’ll be there.”
Yet, he’s happy with his finish on the windy day. Heck, he’s going to state.
“I’m really excited,” he said, “it should be really fun.”
At the time Swanson finished, senior Halee Peterson was stepping up the starting line for the girls 4,000-meter race. Prior to Thursday, she’d been on varsity for six years and never made her way to state’s ultimate pinnacle.
“I was so excited for Erik!” recalled Peterson. “I was like ‘Oh, Erik’s going to state, I can go to state; that’s all I was thinking.”
Fifteen minutes and 28.8 seconds later, she mirrored Swanson’s accolade.
“I was nervous,” said Peterson. “I didn’t know what to expect. But people kept pushing me and yelling ‘It’s your senior year,’ so I told myself I could do this. It felt so good crossing the finish line.”
Like Swanson, Peterson made a gutsy decision during her event, too, just over midway through her race. Shortly after, she came in sixth place with a personal record time and was state-bound.
“There was just a look their both of their eyes,” said Bushey of Peterson and Swanson. “They both ran absolutely perfect races. We went in thinking they both had an outside chance and to get one to state would be great. But for two – that’s pretty surreal. It’s a cool thing. They’re both super-super kids and role models for the younger ones on this team.”
For that matter, the pair were pretty popular afterward, too.
“Facebook was going crazy,” said Peterson, “and I got a lot of calls.”
“My phone died,” laughed Swanson, “and I had like 30-something wall posts.”
It will be a moment the two will cherish forever. The last time Cloquet sent runners to St. Olaf was three years ago with Becca Sorenson and Amy Campbell.
The Class AA boys race kicks off at 1 p.m., while the girls will race at 2 p.m. Saturday.
“It’s like ‘YES!’” laughed Peterson. “I’m just excited to say that I’m going to State!”