One of the mottos of the Grace Christian School cross-country team is "Run for fun, run for joy." The kids who attend the private parochial school in Anchorage will also tell you they run for the glory of God.
What the Grizzlies don't say is they run to win. They don't have to say it. The results say it, over and over and over again.
On a beautiful afternoon at Bartlett High on Saturday, Grace Christian continued its mastery at the Class 1-2-3A state cross-country championships. The boys won their seventh straight state championship and the girls won their fifth straight and their ninth in 13 years.
"It's a culture at Grace," said senior Josh Thomas, one of five Grace Christian boys to finish in the top 16 of the 5-kilometer race. "We're always looking to make each other better."
It's a culture that goes way, way back. Long before he was a member of the team, Thomas was a toddler-sized Grizzly fan rooting for his sister Ashley, a four-time state runnerup who led the Grace girls to team championships in 2000 and 2001.
Running is so big at the school that about one out of every four or five students is on the team. Coach Nate Davis said 55 of the school's 230 or so high-school-aged students are on the team.
"It's like a sisterhood," sophomore Cheyenne Applegate said of the bond among the girls on the team. "God has helped us to not get catty with each other."
Applegate placed fifth overall and was part of a four-runner pack that claimed third, fourth, fifth and sixth place for the Grizzlies. Led by third-place Morgan Lash and fourth-place Elle Arnold, Grace placed five runners in the top eight and had all seven in the top 20. For the second straight year, the girls scored 20 points -- a perfect score is 15 -- to run away with the team title.
The boys, who bleached their hair as a sign of solidarity, scored 44 points for a 12-point win over runnerup Seward. Daniel Servanti led the way in third place, Hans Karlberg was ninth and three others cracked the top 16.
Servanti and Karlberg spent part of the summer in Cambodia on a mission. Arnold and teammate Jodi Davis went to Burma to make and distribute eyeglasses. Applegate and twins Claire and Anna Trujillo traveled to Beijing to do missionary work at an orphanage. "We baked 50 dozen cookies" to help pay for the trip, Applegate said.
Trips like those provide perspective for team members, Thomas said.
"We realize we are so blessed," he said. "A lot of people take things for granted."
In war-torn Burma, where thousands of people have been displaced, "they don't have a choice but to run," Arnold said. "We get to run."
Reach Beth Bragg at firstname.lastname@example.org or 257-4335.