Gabriella Garcia emerges as state champion

Gabriella Garcia wins the 2021 VHSL Class 5 Cross Country State Championship

Photo by: Nicole Quiram
Gabriella Garcia, the 2021 VHSL Class 5A State Cross Country Champion, receives a prized memento for her hard work.

At the beginning of the school year, Ms. Jennifer Krievs asked her Dual Enrollement English class to write down a specific goal for their senior year. One goal immediately came to Gabriella Garcia’s mind: to win the cross country state meet as an individual. Her goal was displayed on a board in the classroom, alongside her classmate’s goals. As students began achieving their goals, they put colored smiley-face stickers on top of what they had written.  In the meantime, Garcia’s goal remained in the back of her mind and when November 13 arrived, she knew it was her one chance to achieve it.

Late into the morning of November 13, Garcia lined up with the Midlothian Girls Varsity Cross Country Team next to one hundred of the best female runners in Virginia at the 2021 Virginia High School League Class 5A Cross Country State Championship. She glanced down at the burgundy ribbon that she had pinned on her jersey over her heart. This ribbon was for her mother, who passed away just one day short of a year ago. Garcia shook out her legs with nervous excitement, readying herself for the challenging five kilometers ahead of her.

I was thinking about how strong my mom was during her battle with cancer and I knew that if she was so strong during that battle that I could also be really strong during my race. She inspired me throughout the race.”

— Gabriella Garcia

When the gun went off, Garcia took off from the starting line with everyone else and made a beeline across the field to get into a good position with the front pack of runners. Her goal was to go out with this pack and see how the other girls were going to run before she made any moves. During the first mile, Garcia stayed in a comfortable position in this pack.

Everything Garcia had done this season was in preparation for this day. She had been training since the beginning of the summer, doing workouts ranging from tempo runs to thousand-meter repeats, to long runs. In fact, this has been a dream of Garcia’s since her freshman year, so in a way, all of the training she had done over the past four years led her to this race.

As Garcia passed through the first mile and up the first significant hill of the course, she noticed her placement. She knew that she wanted to be at the front, and everything was going according to plan. She continued to tell herself to be patient and keep a rhythm. At this point, Garcia’s competition was just a couple of seconds ahead of her. She ran swiftly through her second mile on the back hills of the course and crossed a creek that froze her legs for a brief second.

The past year had been incredibly challenging for Garcia with her mother’s passing, but despite the challenges, she had grown as both a runner and a person. She had been supported by her teammates and coaches helping to lift her out of a dark time and find her love of running again. In addition to these people, memories of her mother continued to inspire her as she tried to stay positive, just like her mom.

The third mile of the course brought two large hills, but they were no match for Garcia. After Garcia crested the final large hill of the race, she flew down a gravel road and turned back into the gate, heading to the finish line. Garcia remembered what her coach had told her just the day before, that inside that gate with 600 meters to go was where state championships are won and lost. Going into that gate, she looked to her mom for strength. And strength Garcia received. With just 200 meters to go, Garcia took the lead. She kept pumping her arms to power her legs with the finish line in sight. She just wanted to make it there. As she crossed the finish, she whispered a prayer thanking God and saying, “mom, we did it.”

Gabriella placed a blue sticker on her goal when she returned to class. (Photo by: Nicole Quiram)

Joy flowed over Garcia and she knew she had just achieved her goal, and she had done it with her mom. Garcia immediately found her coach, Stan Morgan, and gave him a hug and thanked him for believing in her and pushing her to be her best. As her teammates crossed the finish line and she began receiving congratulatory hugs from both teammates and competitors alike, her new title of State Champion began to sink in.

In the end, Garcia thought back to the goal she had written months earlier in her English class and she was thrilled to join some of her classmates and put a sticker on her goal marking her incredible achievement.

In achieving her goal, Gabriella Garcia made school history as only the second female runner from Midlothian High School to win an individual State Championship in cross country. Garcia joins Kathleen Lautzenheizer, who finished first in the 2007 VHSL AAA State Championship, into permanent school history.

Congratulations, Gabriella!