Sports

Without a shoe for half the race, Chugiak runner leads Alaska girls team to victory at seven-state meet

There was no time to stop, so Addison Capozzi kicked off her shoe and kept running.

A mile into Capozzi’s race against nearly 450 runners from seven states, she found herself at a sudden disadvantage. After going around a hairpin turn on the course, the pack around her tightened up, and a girl behind her stepped on the back of her left shoe.

“It wasn’t on the heel anymore, but it was still on the arch of my foot,” said the Chugiak High student.

She ran for about another half mile before deciding she was better off without her shoe. “It was slowing me down, so I decided to just kick it off.”

After finishing, the disappointment of her tough luck was replaced by elation when she found out her team, RunAK, had beaten more than 40 teams to win the open invitational at the Nike Cross Nationals northwest regional meet.

“At first I was really upset just because I was like, you know, ‘that totally cost me the race,’ " Capozzi said after returning from the Boise, Idaho, event earlier this month.

“But then I was going back to get my stuff at our starting line, and my coach came over and he was like, ‘You guys won!’ What? No way.”

Yes way.

The 16-year-old and five of her fastest friends from the Chugiak girls cross-country team had run with a fast crowd and proved they belonged.

Capozzi, Kiley Dennis, Skyler Belmear, Emily Moore and Ada Burrup had earned their place at the meet by being part of the girls cross-country running team that won state in October. The regional Nike meet would let them know how they stacked up against Outside competition.

The Northwest regional pitted them against elite teams from Alaska and six other states: Oregon, Washington, Montana, Wyoming and Hawaii.

It provides high school runners with a showcase event for the nation’s best to measure themselves against one another on equal footing, because courses vary greatly. The hills at Kincaid Park, for instance, don’t make for fast 5-K times.

The RunAK victory as a team took some of the sting out of Capozzi’s dismay at having thrown a shoe.

“It was kind of a bummer because I was super prepared for the race, and I was really hoping to get a good PR (personal record), but the shoe did not allow for that,” she said.

Brian Kruchoski, the RunAK coach, said it was apparent she had run through some pain.

“Her foot was bruised at the end of the race,” he said. “That night, it was bruised and puffy on the bottom of her foot.”

If RunAK (teams at the meet run under their club name but have to be from the same school) qualifies again next year, Capozzi might get another crack at that PR. And it might come on an even bigger stage. The team was seeded in the open class, one below the championship division, based on their times.

None of them are seniors. And Chugiak junior Campbell Peterson, who led the Mustangs to the state team crown by placing second, could be with them in 2022. Prior commitments prevented her from going this year.

Beyond that, 2022 might also offer the chance to compete against the best from the entire country if the Alaskans are fast enough. This year’s national meet was called off because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

As for the girls’ more immediate plans, Capozzi expects them to be running for the Chugiak track team this spring. Last season, the girls 3,200 relay team finished second at state to South.

“Hopefully we can be strong again,” Capozzi said.

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