Sailors cross country runner to compete in state unified race, which has ties to Steamboat
Xavier Knott, a freshman on the Steamboat Springs High School cross country team, will be one of two Sailors running at the state championships in Colorado Springs this year. Knott will compete in the unified race at the Norris Penrose Event Center on Saturday, Oct. 30, a shorter course for athletes with special needs.
Knott, who is on the autism spectrum, has been competing in 5-kilometer races with the Sailors team all fall. He’s excited for the event and not at all nervous. Knott has never been competitive enough to be nervous about how he’ll perform.
“He does it for the love of it,” said Knott’s mom Ginger Johnston. “He doesn’t do it for any other reason. He’s on the starting line, and he doesn’t have those nerves that other people have. Rather, he’s just excited.”
When Knott first started running in sixth grade, he wasn’t particularly competitive. At a team time trial, he jogged two miles in 32 minutes. His mom knew he could do better; he just needed something to help him focus.
At the time, Knott was very into geographical locations, specifically, hockey arenas. Johnston and her husband and some other family members made signs with different stadiums and spaced themselves out along the course. Knott then had a reason to pick up the pace and find the next person holding the next stadium.
“He doesn’t have that drive to compete, naturally anyways,” Johnston said. “Having those points to run to kind of made it all make sense.”
Knott’s para-educator, Rod Wells, has also helped Knott gain a competitive edge. When Wells started working with Knott, he joined Knott at track practices. The coaches had an idea of running angry, and Wells helped Knott get pumped up and in that mindset of getting ready to race.
Sometimes, Wells has to cut across sections of the course to keep up, but he loves tagging along with Knott.
“He asked me if I was going to do track, and I said, ‘Sure,’” Wells said. “He asked me if I was going to do cross country (when he got to high school). I said, ‘If I’m able.’ Then he looked at me and said, ‘We’ll be friends for life.’ One of those break-your-heart moments.”
Now, Knott is super speedy, regardless of how far he has to go.
“If you said go 10 miles, he would go 10 miles,” said Steamboat head cross country coach Lisa Renee Tumminello. “And he could go 10 miles.”
‘An opportunity for them’
The unified race has early ties to Steamboat. Steamboat Springs High School graduate and athlete Tom Southall was a liaison for the Colorado High School Activities Association and found athletes that qualified as Paralympic and unified, or Special Olympic, athletes and worked with coaches to get the athletes signed up for state races.
Unified races at the state track and field championships have been happening for longer, but the cross country race has only been around for five or so years.
“It gave them a chance to show their talents and their ability at a higher level at the state meet,” Southall said.
The race will be at 11 a.m. Saturday, smack dab in the middle of the day when the most people are at the state championships.
“We want to be able to celebrate them,” said Jenn Roberts-Uhlig, an assistant commissioner at CHSAA. “It used to be our first race of the day,, and not everybody was there yet. So it’s changed having it in the middle of the day, so we have that audience, so we have school representation.”
Southall hopes it eventually grows to a point where athletes would have to hit a qualifying standard. The only requirement is athletes take part in the fall cross country season.
“Not every cross country runner makes it to state, so it’d be nice to have so many kids running that we did have to have a qualifying standard,” Southall said. “But I’m glad there is an opportunity for them.”
Shelby Reardon is the assistant editor at the Steamboat Pilot & Today. To reach her, call 970-871-4253, email sreardon@SteamboatPilot.com or follow her on Twitter @ByShelbyReardon.
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