By Michael Kinney
Emma Downing didn’t know what to think or what was going on. When she crossed the finish line Saturday at the state meet, the Mustang senior collapsed. She fell to the ground and laid there staring up.
Downing had just taken second-place in the 6A girls state cross country championships, a goal she could never have imagined when she began her career and after going through a variety of obstacles during her time at Mustang.
So, when it finally hit Downing what she had accomplished, she could only lay at the finish line and let the moment wash over her.
“I don’t know. I just felt … Everything just kind of melted away,” Downing said. “I’ve been stressed out about college, stressed out about everything, and state, and it just ended. I was like, ‘Oh my gosh.’ This is it. This is why … It’s over.” My best friend Maddie from last year was there. She caught me and she was just like, ‘I’m so proud of you.’ My mom and my aunt were coming. I’m like, ‘Oh my gosh. This is crazy.’”
When it was all said and done, there only one competitor Downing was unable to run down Saturday at Edmond Santa Fe. Despite the harsh weather, she ran an 18:31.55 and was 15 seconds behind champion Rilee Rigdon of Bartlesville.
For Downing, it was an amazing way to cap off her career at Mustang.
“It means the world. You know, I started running my sophomore year after taking off for my knees and stuff. It’s been such a journey,” Downing said. “I never thought I’d be anywhere like this. Honestly, the only reason I’m here is definitely by the grace of God. He’s definitely got me through everything that I ever go through. I mean, the only way I ever get through running is just praying the whole time. I’m just so grateful that I get the opportunity to come out here and run and to have fun.”
As a team, the Mustang girls grabbed second place with 102 points. Norman took home the team title with 52 points.
The Broncos got strong performances from Elaina Hinkle, Alex Jenkins and Jordan Thayer, who all finished inside the top 30.
In order for Downing to place second, she had to fight mother nature and strong competition from girls she has faced all season.
“I think there was about four other girls that Emma had run behind all year: Enid, Deer Creek, Norman, and she went through them today at about mile two,” Mustang coach Mike McGarry said. “She left them during the second mile today, and they did not come back on her at all. She ran away from them, and just a very solid race, so really proud of Emma today.”
For Downing, it was just a matter of believing she could do it.
“When we started running, the top seven girls, the fastest girls out there were out right there. I was like, “Alright, let’s go.” I got a little bit of a smile and kind of started running with them,” Downing said. “Then the top three Deer Creek, Jenks and Bartlesville, just kind of ran up there and I was just tailing them like, “Hey, let’s go. Let’s start running. They were just telling me, “Hey, Jenks, she’s going down. She’s tired. Just go get her. I went up and got her. I’m like, “Hey, come one Ally. Let’s go. Let’s run.” She didn’t want to stay up and I was just running by myself. I’m like, “Oh my gosh. I’m in second place. I’m right here. What is this craziness?” Then it just finished. It was crazy serious.”
Waiting for Downing at the finish line were her family, friends and a special trip to the Nike Invitational in Woodland, Texas in three weeks.
“My aunt flew in from Wyoming and that was a complete surprise,” Downing said. “My mom said, sometime last year, “Hey, would you rather have your aunt come to graduation or cross-country state?” I was like, “Cross-country state,” thinking nothing of it and yet here she is last night. She surprised us and everything. Oh man, there’re just so many things going on. Then, we’re going to Nike’s, so I’m so excited. Everything’s just crazy, you know?”