Ping continues record-breaking career at Nike Cross Nationals
Local eighth-grader finishes in sixth place in high school race
When local eighth-grade distance runner Grace Ping lined up at the starting line at Nike Cross Nationals over the weekend, she was surrounded by girls from all over the nation who were anywhere from 1-4 years older than her. For most young girls her age, this would be an intimidating experience, but for Ping, she was right in her element.
“I wasn’t starstruck,” she said. “I was super excited.”
Excited to the point that Grace had a strong start in the race, leading the talented field at one point, to finish in sixth place overall in the Girls Championship race with a time of 17:48.3.
Again, this race is typically reserved for the best high school runners in the nation. Grace, however, more than held her own and she hasn’t even graduated from middle school.
When Grace finished, shec acted as if it wasn’t a big deal to her. She turned right around and started looking for her five Southwest teammates (every runner at the meet had to qualify via a Regional meet).
“I think I wanted to get top three or top five, but I’m happy with my result,” Grace said. “I was excited for, well, Brie Oakley, who won, was in my region. You just hang out with your region all the time so it was really fun to see her win and I was happy with my result, too.”
This isn’t the first time Grace has made national news in the running community. Over Thanksgiving holiday, she entered into one of the nation’s largest races for that day, the Silicon Valley Turkey Trot. Grace raced in the professional women’s field, which included two Olympians, where she finished in 16th overall by setting the 13-year-old world record for a five-kilometer road race with a time of 16:36.
This was her third world record, as she also broke the five-kilometer road race records when she was 10 and 11 years old. Additionally, she ran in the Nike Cross Nationals race last year as a seventh-grader and finished in 14th place overall.
“As a parent, I see the records as something that motivates Grace,” said father Ryan Ping. “She’s always focused on improving her times and training smartly.”
The Pings moved to Park City over the summer after previously living in Minnesota. Ryan said the reason they moved out here was, like most who make their way out here, because they love the mountains.
He first realized Grace had a knack for running at just 8 years old when she ran her first five-kilometer road race. She set the state of Minnesota age class record, which led Ryan and his wife to believe Grace was a natural at the sport.
“We figured that she had a knack for running and racing,” Ryan said. “Since then, she’s participated at USATF (USA Track & Field) Junior Olympics for cross country every year.”
In Minnesota, she was able to compete for her local high school team because she was good enough and the state didn’t have any rules against it. But when the family moved to Utah, Grace was left with just road races and USATF meets to keep her motivated due to a rule UHSAA has in place. It says an athlete can’t compete on a high school team unless he or she is in high school.
But her wait to do so is almost over, as Grace, who goes to Treasure Mountain Middle School right now, will be entering the high school ranks next fall.
“I know what it’s like [to be on a high school team] and I think I missed it this year,” Grace said. “So I’m excited to get back into it again.”
While Grace is certainly excited, Steve Cuttitta, Head Coach at PCHS, might be even more excited. Cuttitta hopes with the addition of Grace next season, his team will be able to make that jump to the next level.
“I’m really hoping that it creates a surge of excitement for cross-country and distance running in the community,” Cuttitta said. “We’ve kind of been a state power for a while, but to become more of regional or even a national power. I think having that top runner can really create some excitement about the sport and joining the team. I think she’s a person that we can build around.”
With strong underclassmen returning to the team next year, Grace would be a welcome addition to an already solid program. Cuttitta hopes by adding the world-record holder, the runners on the team will step up their training to compete with her. He also hopes Grace’s presence will bring others to the team who might be interested, but never pulled the trigger.
“Anytime that you can bring in someone who is better or someone who is great at something, you kind of raise the caliber of the entire team,” Cuttitta said. “They don’t have to be as good as Grace, but to try to be better or to try to do the things that she does, I think that will be helpful.”
With the cross-country season over, Grace will continue to train in the elevation of Park City, which she admits has been an advantage to her training. She will also compete in other road races and contests throughout the year until she is finally able to become part of the high school team in the fall.
“I’m really looking forward to it,” she said. “[Being on a team is] a lot of fun.”
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