Ladies and gentlemen, bow in the presence of greatness. Saturday, we witnessed something special in Wyoming, something worth paying attention to for the next three years.
Sheridan hosted the Wyoming state cross-country meet over the weekend, a packed event that featured 488 runners from three different classifications across the state. Controlled chaos, you could call it, as runners, parents, coaches and fans scurried around the Veteran Affairs Medical Center campus and the looping cross-country course.
Within the chaos, though, emerged Rawlins freshman Sydney Thorvaldson.
Throughout the day, competitors burst through the howling wind before collapsing at the finish line, a sign of the exhausting effort they had delivered to the course in the final race of the season. But Thorvaldson scoffed at the windy conditions. The course was hers, and nobody was taking it from her.
She finished the 3A girls race in 17 minutes, 49.31 seconds. It was two full minutes faster than Cody’s Riley Smith — also a freshman — who finished second.
Thorvaldson was the top girl at the meet. She beat the 2A winner by almost three minutes, and she would have won the 4A race by six seconds. In fact, she would have won the 2A boys race, as well.
She put on a show, and eyes were glued to the thin, impressive Rawlins freshman.
Plenty of hype surrounded Thorvaldson heading into the state meet. She’d dominated her competition all season — six wins to her name, including another two-plus-minute win at the regional meet. Her personal-best at the state meet completed a perfect season.
I can admit I’m not fully ingrained in the cross-country culture. I never ran it and never came close. I’m tall and have bad knees and feet. Running isn’t my forte.
In fact, Saturday was the first state cross-country meet I had covered since I’ve been in Wyoming, despite Sheridan hosting each of the last four autumns I’ve lived here.
And while I focused plenty on the local teams and competitors, I couldn’t help but feed into the Thorvaldson hype.
I spent most of the afternoon scrambling around the course, looking for spots to take photos that featured scenic backdrops (easy) and very few spectators (difficult). We were shooting photos for six local teams (three high schools, boys and girls teams) along with photos for a half dozen other teams for other news organizations.
But I had a little break during the 3A girls race. I was hunting for unique angles for photos, but grabbing any shot of runners coming directly at me was difficult. I clearly couldn’t just stand on the track and get in the way, no matter how many parents thought they could do just that.
But I knew the guy, Alex Bradfield, driving the side-by-side leading the pack around the course. I thought, “Maybe if I sit in the passenger seat, I can shoot backward as the runners follow behind.” The 3A girls race seemed perfect, because I had no other commitments to specific teams. I’d give it a try.
And boy was it fun.
Immediately, as I rapid-fired from my Nikon, Thorvaldson cranked up the speed. Within seconds she was strides ahead of the pack. Within minutes, there was nobody else in sight. The rest of the pack needed its own pace car; she was that far ahead.
With each photo I took, the backdrop cleared. She was on a track by herself; she calmly kept pace, raising internal concern if we were even driving fast enough for her. Were we possibly slowing her down? Nonetheless, I continuously snapped photos like paparazzi chasing a celebrity.
Because I was, and she is.
Sure, she has three more years of growing and getting stronger and re-developing muscle masses and technique and all the very precise workings of a runner’s body. It’s probably unfair of us to put her in a box.
But as it currently appears, we’re witnessing a special talent. Other than Robbi Ryan, no athlete in Wyoming has had the top-tier talent that Thorvaldson possesses — or the expectations that come with it.
Ryan turned out just fine, now thriving with the Arizona State women’s basketball team. Only time will tell, but I’d reckon the calm Rawlins’ freshman will do just fine herself.
Luckily for the rest of us, we’ll have three more years to gaze in awe as she races to the top of the running world.