High School Sports

Kikkan Randall inspires cheers, tears at Anchorage cross-country meet

All eyes were on Kikkan Randall at a high school cross-country race Saturday, and none of them were dry. Randall's included.

The Olympic gold medalist said she was shocked to see a sea of pink as she rode her bicycle into Kincaid Park from her East Anchorage home.

"Oh my gosh you guys, this is amazing," said Randall, who planned to be a spectator at the Big 8 meet but instead became the focal point of an emotional day of racing.

Randall, 35, was diagnosed with breast cancer less than six months after winning a historic gold medal in cross-country skiing at February's Winter Olympics in South Korea.

An East High graduate who won the 2000 Cook Inlet Conference cross-country championship, said she came to Saturday's race to support her cousin, West High's Kelsey Johannes.

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But the Alaska running community is a small one, and when word got out that Randall would be making an appearance, coaches sprung into action.


Eagle River head coach Jacob Bera, who wore pink sunglasses for the event, said it was important to show Randall how important she is to Alaska's young runners.

"We wanted to make a big show of support," said Bera, whose team made a banner for athletes and coaches to sign in support of their hero.

Race winner Ava Earl of South High called Randall an inspiration.

"She's just such a spirited person," said Earl, who wore bright pink socks.

Eagle River's Emily Walsh, who came decked out in a pink bandana, echoed those sentiments.

"She was my childhood hero," she said.

[Earl, Bausch triumph in final race before CIC championships]

Walsh, who lost a cousin to cancer, said it was important for her to show support for Randall in her fight against the disease. "I like to show support for her and for anyone who has cancer," she said.

Athletes and coaches were asked to wear pink for the race and most did. Several went the extra mile and showed up with pink hair. Chugiak's entire coaching staff wore hot-pink T-shirts with "Chugiak (loves) Kikkan" written on the back.

Mustangs assistant Brian Kruchoski said the team wanted Randall to know just how much she means to local athletes.

"She's looked up to so much by all of these kids," he said.

Randall was overcome by emotion during a brief speech at the post-race awards ceremony, where she handed out the prizes

"I've been through a lot of challenges going for that Olympic gold, and this is just my latest challenge," she told the runners. "And knowing you guys have got my back makes me feel stronger than ever."

Randall vowed to continue advocating for healthy lifestyles and thanked the crowd for its support.

"You guys out doing your thing makes me feel strong, makes me feel happy, and together we're going to keep enjoying this amazing life we have," she said.

"So thank you so much!"

Runners responded with a spontaneous chant: "Kikkan! Kikkan! Kikkan!"

Matt Tunseth

Matt Tunseth is a former reporter for the Anchorage Daily News and former editor of the Alaska Star.