(L to R) Hannah Kaiser, Hailey Ponczoch, Zach Sever, Jakob Heller, and Gabe Crossman
May 23, five seniors from Carson High School’s cross country team celebrated the end of the school year and their sports seasons with a 20.20 mile touch-less relay run.
They began on the westside of Carson, ran up through Lakeview to loop around Franktown Road and finished at Bower’s Mansion State Park. They wore Carson blue T-shirts with “Class of 20.20” on the front and backs that read “And let us run with endurance the race that is set before us. Hebrews 12:1.”
Zach Sever, one of the top distance runners in the state, ran the challenging first leg. He averaged a six and a half minute mile pace during his 4.04 miles, which included the grueling climb up Combs Canyon Road into Lakeview. In fact, he out-ran the cyclists who were accompanying the runners. Sever, a four-year varsity cross country runner, went to regionals all four years and qualified for state his junior and senior years. Last fall, he placed 8th in the state championship meet. Sever also competed in track all four years of high school, qualifying for regionals his sophomore and junior years. Last spring, he qualified for the state championship meet and placed 4th in the 3200 meter run. Sever will continue his running career at Bryan College in Dayton, Tennessee where he will be running cross country and track.
Gabe Crossman, a four-year varsity letterman in swimming, ran the second leg. Born with congenital glaucoma, Crossman underwent major eye surgeries during his freshman and sophomore years which shortened his swim seasons. Realizing the risk of eye infections might end his swimming, Crossman started running cross country his sophomore year and was the co-captain of the boys team with Sever last fall. Despite the setbacks, Crossman kept swimming and was a finalist at regionals all three years. Last spring at regionals, he finished 4th in the 500 freestyle. Crossman will attend Brigham Young University in Idaho and plans to serve a mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Hannah Kaiser, the student body president, ran the third 4.04 mile leg. A gifted athlete, Kaiser lettered in track all four years, played volleyball her freshman and sophomore years before switching to cross country her junior and senior years. She qualified for regionals in track all three years. Kaiser also qualified for the state cross country meets her junior and senior years. She and Hailey Ponczoch were on the 2019 NIAA Academic State Championship Cross Country team. Kaiser explained “I wanted to do the run today because I felt like it really gave the ending to my high school running career that was missing because of the pandemic. I got to run one more time with people I’ve ran with throughout high school and wore Carson blue one last time.” Kaiser will attend the University of Nevada Reno on a Presidential Scholarship and plans to major in English Literature.
Hailey Ponczoch, a three-year cross country runner and the student body vice president, ran the fourth leg. Her sister Jinnie Ponczoch, a 7th grader at Carson Middle School ran the 4.04 miles with her. Ponczoch, who was the captain of the cross country team last fall, explained doing this run was meaningful to her “because I’ve been running with these guys for years. We’re not just teammates but friends as well and this isn’t exactly how we thought we’d be turning this page.” She continued, “It was amazing to witness how people can come together, even in difficult times, to lift each other up and cheer each other on. It was wonderful to do something I love with people I love in a place I love.” Ponczoch will attend Brigham Young University in Utah and plans to serve a mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Jakob Heller, a state qualifier in cross country and the triple jump last year, ran the fifth leg. Heller ran cross country three years and competed in hurdles and triple jump in track for four years after transferring to Carson High from West Virginia. Known to his teammates as “West Virginia,” Heller took the runners home on country road Old 395. Jakob Heller was grateful for the opportunity to see some of his closest friends again, explaining “They have helped shape my life here in Carson.” He plans to serve a mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints before attending Brigham Young University in Utah and majoring in computer science.
The runners practiced social distancing and were supported by their families in separate vehicles. Siblings held signs and cheered for all the runners, and additional cross country teammates followed to cheer along the route at different locations. Jacob Crossman, a CHS junior cross country and track athlete, ran with Kaiser and Ponczoch. Jakob Heller’s father Bryan Heller cycled the entire route with the runners and admitted that he knew Sever was going to outrun him up Combs Canyon. But he emphasized, “I caught him on the downhill.” Laurel Crossman, mother of Gabe Crossman, said “It felt good to yell for runners again.”
The seniors all rejoined—at an appropriate distance—to run the last half mile together to the finish. Kristi Heller, Jakob’s mother, said, “I’m thinking about our five seniors and the kind of kids they are and the things they’ve done. They are pretty amazing. I’m sure feeling blessed as a parent right now.” While the end of the school year and the canceled spring sports season isn’t what any of these seniors anticipated, they are still running towards bright futures.