By Jackie Jenson
Photography by Janssen Photography
In today’s world, the word “phenom” is used to describe everything from an accomplished pianist to an unusually fast mathematician. In the sports realm, however, it is reserved for someone who exhibits ferocious athletic prowess. Whether describing an amazing athlete or academic whiz, though, in most cases the expression is used to refer to a young person, someone who has accomplished great feats at an early age.
According to dictionary.com, the word “phenom” is defined as, “a phenomenon, especially a young prodigy.” Google describes it as, “a person who is outstandingly talented or admired, especially an up-and-comer.” In the case of young running sensation, Chloe Paulson, the word phenom seems aptly applied. Paulson, an eighth grader at Pelican Rapids High School, recently attended her second state track meet.
Yes, second before age 15.
“Chloe was an alternate at State last year, which was great experience,” explains Pelican Rapids girls track and field coach John Peter.
Paulson has only been running a few years, actually since the seventh grade, which makes her accomplishments even more dramatic. With only two years of running experience, the Pelican Rapids phenom is on an upward trajectory as she continues to learn more and advance in her sport of choice: running.
“I started running in seventh grade,” recalls Paulson. “That’s when I realized volleyball wasn’t my thing and decided to do cross country.”
Not limiting herself to just long distance, she joined the track team later that spring, adding sprinting and mid-distance to her running repertoire.
“I run the 4x400m relay, 4x800m relay, 800m, 1600m, and two-mile,” explains Paulson. “I like the challenge [of running different distances],” she adds.
Today, running cross country in the fall and track in the spring, Paulson is an extremely versatile runner, a contender in everything from the 400m sprint to the two-mile long haul. In short, she is a runner’s runner who can really do it all.
“She is a fiery competitor. I don’t have to amp her up in any way, which is way easier on my end. I basically just need to get out of her way,” notes Coach Peter.
After a strong section track meet showing this spring, Paulson’s times took her to State once again in the 800m and 1600m respectively. After not qualifying to advance in the 800m, Chloe turned her attention to the 1600m where she would find success at the prestigious last meet of the official track season.
“It was fun to run at state but there was a lot of tough competition to run against [this year],” notes the running novice.
Placing ninth over all in the 1600m at the 2017 state competition, Chloe is taking the race in stride. She credits solid training and good coaching for her triumphs thus far. Keeping things fun helps too, adds Paulson.
“I think what has made me successful is that I have a great coach. My coach, John Peter, always tries to motivate me to reach my full potential,” Paulson remarks.
On pace for continued successes, Paulson says she is driven by the achievements of young, record-setting Grace Ping. Hailing from Winona, Minn., Ping is a teen runner who currently holds the world record for her age bracket in the 5000m and two-mile run.
“An athlete who inspires me is Grace Ping; she’s so young and has accomplished so much, like setting world records and state records,” says Paulson.
Winning does not come without challenge, however, and running is a difficult sport as Ping once remarked in a June 23, 2016 Runner’s World magazine article.
“Running’s not an easy sport. It’s a lot of fun to me, and I really like it, but it doesn’t mean that it’s not hard,” commented the record-setting runner.
With early victories, Paulson has now set her sites on perpetuating her progress and making it back to State in 2018.
“I would really love to go to State again next year,” she starts. “I think my goal would be to place higher than I did this year.”
With a variety of short, mid and long distance races to run, Paulson notes she approaches winning each race a bit differently.
“When running long distance,
I need to mentally prepare myself versus sprinting,” explains the young runner.
Sprinting, though, is Paulson’s secret weapon, says Coach Peter.
“Chloe is a strong sprinter. Her ability to sprint well at the end of the race is the key; she can also endure the pace of the race,” starts Peter. “She sprints well for a distance runner which is gold. If you can sprint at the end of the race, you’ll win every time,” comments the coach.
One obstacle that may be out of her control with regards to continued success, however, is her age. With all teens, growth spurts are always on the horizon. They can be a blessing that helps to fortify and strengthen muscle tissues, and a curse that adds a couple of inches of new height.
Although stronger and taller should be a bonus, it can change a person’s athletic balance as they learn how to deal with their new skeletal structure, a challenge some athletes are not able to overcome. Coach Peter has a great philosophy on just that notion, though; a philosophy that Paulson can draw strength on if she suddenly finds herself six inches taller during her high school running career.
Says Peter: “Kids are going to grow in high school. That is a fact of nature. It’s important for us as coaches to keep it [sports] fun and give them the space to achieve personal growth which is different for every student athlete.”
Peter went on to explain that kids really join a sport for two reasons: fun and friendship.
“Kids join track either to be with their friends or because they just want to have fun. Rarely do you have a kid that just loves to run.”
Keeping things fun and helping kids to set goals for themselves, therefore, is the key to achieving success both academically and athletically, adds the coach.
With two Minnesota State track meets under her belt and a new title of high school freshmen, Paulson is looking to a future that will simply be filled with running, training and having fun. If she has any advice for other young runners, she says she would tell them to enjoy whatever sport they are competing in and stay in the moment.
Her advice is as follows:
“I would say just to do what you have been doing and not to let all the pressure get to your head. And most importantly to go out and have fun,” concludes Paulson.