Animals, BBQ & Quick Feet
Perham’s Brynnan and Caitlin Covington on the Run
By Merrie Sue Holtan
As a member of the Perham Cross Country and Track teams, Caitlin, a ninth grader, joins her sister, Brynnan, 16, a junior. The High School Track and Cross County National Coaches Association have ranked the Yellowjacket girls cross country team sixth in the nation, and both girls hit personal best times at last year’s state track meet. Also in 2015, Brynnan won the section one -mile track championship and Caitlin took the section two -mile championship.
They learned to be disciplined athletes from a life filled with animals, responsibilities, good running genes and BBQ.
Brynnan and Caitlin follow in the Perham cross country steps of older brother Tristan, 24, who is now a fourth year medical student at the University of Minnesota and sister, Ciarrin, 20, studying pre-veterinary science at the University of North Dakota. Little brother, Gareth, 13, and sister Trinity, 11, may also join the running ranks for the Yellowjackets, but Gareth also enjoys football and baseball.
Beyond a vocal parrot, the Covington fur family includes three dogs, three cats, and three Guinea pigs at their Little McDonald Lake home. Brynnan says it used to be even wilder when the family lived on a farm near Perham, and she reports they will move back to the farm this fall.
“We had horses, sheep, goats, pigs, Guinea hens, peacocks, dogs, cats and three parrots,” she says. “I’d describe our family as a little crazy but very close and always on the go. Each child received a pet to help teach us responsibility.”
It doesn’t hurt that mom, Raeanna, a veterinarian, owns All Creatures Veterinary Hospital in Perham. She grew up on a dairy farm near New York Mills and also ran cross country for Ely Community College in Minnesota, where she won a national title in the open 800 and finished her running career at Jamestown College in North Dakota. Each Covington child has household chores, as well as cleaning the vet clinic and working outside jobs.
The Covington sisters came through the Perham Mighty Mite running program, and they try to push each other (even mom) to be faster and better. Father David, a native of England and an emergency medicine physician, lent his competitive skills and teamwork by involving the kids in competitive BBQ. The BBQ team earned state champion five times and placed fourth in the nation (for ribs) in 2007. Brynnan achieved Top 10 in the country for her blue cheese peanut butter burger.
“We traveled all over the country, Kansas, Alaska, Mason City,” says Caitlin. “We learned teamwork early, working as box girls or clean up. I actually won the Iowa State Championship ‘Kids Que’ in Mason City with my chicken recipe.”
Fortunately, the family also has a cross country expert living next door. Neighbor Larry Anderson, taught social studies for 39 nine years at Eden Prairie High School and coached cross country for 36 of those years, including national champions.
“These sisters have great mental strength,” Anderson says. “They go and train on their own, never blaming or making excuses. They abide by ‘if it’s going to be, it’s up to me.’ Because of Coach Jeff Morris, they know the proper techniques, the efficiency of stride, the way the feet hit the ground and arm movements.”
The girls now aim for 300 to 400 miles, or more, of running per summer. Coach Jeff writes a training program for each runner based on specific needs and experience. They also attend team summer training camp at Bemidji State University.
The coaches and Brynnan realize the difficulty for young girls as they mature and begin to plateau in their sport.
“At that plateau,” Larry says, “A runner can decide to train through the plateau or decide they are not going to make it.”
Brynnan has experienced the plateau combined with a hip injury. “I trained hard to come over ‘the hill’ (plateau), and with the added injury it was very hard,” she says. “For older girls it takes strong mental training to pull through. I keep a board at home that has all my goals with times I want to reach. I’ve also increased my leg muscle strength with weight lifting combined with core exercises, crunches and pushups.”
Steady and fast
Brynnan also says she is beginning to come out of her shell as a shy person, and she describes Caitlin as more direct and “uppity.”
“Brynnan is a quiet competitor,” says Coach Jeff. “She has enormous leadership because of her concern for others. She has a natural talent but never loses sight of the team.”
Jeff describes Caitlin as the most different of all the Covington kids he has coached. “She has a fire in her,” he says, “And she’s vocal about it.”
“She’s a lot like former Perham runner, and now professional runner, Gabe Anderson,” Jeff says. “Caitlin doesn’t yet realize her potential. It’s a ‘let’s go, let’s do this’ kind of attitude.”
Dad David also says the girls are quite different in their thinking.
“Brynnan is a deep thinker,” he says, “Slower to react, strong, and steady. Caitlin because of her age and enthusiasm is more of a ‘BS’er,’ listening to her own voice inside that says, ‘go faster.’”
David and Raeanna believe it’s the parent’s job during training to make sure the athletes are hydrated and dressed appropriately and to let parents know when they expect to be home. If they are running alone, they run with a phone.
“We believe kids who grow up with boundaries are more secure and happy as this is how we were both raised,” Raeanna says. “Kids should be accountable. Gaining personal responsibility is the key to growth and maturity. Cross country is an extension of that philosophy.”
At the track
When the Covington’s hang up their cross country shoes, they switch to spring track season, running all year in every kind of weather. Last year Perham won the Heart of Lakes championship, and at sections, Brynnan went on to win the 1600 by more than six seconds. Caitlin won the 3200 by more than eight seconds. Both girls have goals to make the state podium. The sisters agree that track is a more individual sport, where they might run in as many as four events whereas cross country is a team effort, and they don’t “shoot for” individual achievement.
The girls have also been involved with choir, ballet and Tai Kwon Do and their church youth groups. Brynnan has been on the speech team, participated in the community musical, and enjoys baking to relax, while Caitlin plays piano. In school, Brynnan enjoys English and science. Caitlin leans toward math.
“I’d like to run at the U of Minnesota and become a dentist. I like teeth,” Caitlin says.
“I’d like to run in college,” Brynnan
says, “But I know it will be more pressure. Maybe at a big name school.”
“No dream is too big,” the girls advise young athletes. “Never lose hope. Try hard, work hard and believe in yourself.”