Zirkle honored as school’s top athlete

Joel Reichenberger

— A bit like Chris Zirkle himself, the former Hayden High School track star’s racing career just won’t stop.

Dinged up with a few small injuries, Zirkle, a senior, is sitting out this track season at Northwest Christian University. That will allow him to come back and compete for the school next season.

Even before his final season, he’s already left a major mark. He was recently selected as the NCU athlete of the year.

“It was pretty cool,” he said of the honor. “It was definitely awesome. They pick whoever was the best combined athlete to get the award.”

Zirkle didn’t have any problem figuring out what set him apart.

He earned all-America status in the fall when he placed 19th at the NAIA national championships in Kansas. Runners who placed in the top 30 were named all-Americans, and Zirkle said only one achievement came even close to matching his excitement from that event.

As a senior at Hayden High School in 2011, he won two state championships at the state track meet, taking both the 3,200- and 1,600-meter runs with thrilling sprint finishes down the homestretch.

He was also a big factor on the cross country team for Moffat County High School, attending state multiple times.

He later went on to race at Garden City Community College in Kansas.

“It’s hard to consider it next to the state track meet, because that was really important to me, but as far as cross country goes, this is my greatest accomplishment,” he said, considering the all-America honor. “I got all-American at junior college, too, but to get it at the next level up was great.

“It was a combination of how big of a deal it was and how unexpected it was. It was awesome,” Zirkle continued. “I struggled in the middle of the season, then had a great race at conference, went to nationals and knew I had a chance.”

That race and honor paved the way for another he’ll never forget, being named the Northwest Christian University athlete of the year.

He was the school’s first men’s cross country all-American.

He won’t have a chance to repeat that feat as he’s out of eligibility. He’s hoping to knock off a few more big races in his college career, however.

By sitting this season out, he saved a year of eligibility in track, and he hopes to cash that in next spring.

“I missed out on nationals last track season by about 20 seconds in the (10-kilometer run). I was really close, and I want to get to that,” he said. “With my cross country performance, I know I can do pretty well if I get there.”

To reach Joel Reichenberger, call 970-871-4253, email or follow him on Twitter @JReich9

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