MARION — It’s far too early to talk about a legacy. It’s premature to discuss her standing among the state’s all-time greats.
All Stephanie Jenks wants to do is run.
Jenks is a supremely talented freshman at Linn-Mar High School. She will run at the state cross country meet at 11 a.m. Saturday at Lakeside Golf Course near Fort Dodge. And she’ll do so as the favorite to win the Class 4A girls’ race.
“I just think of it as another race with competition,” Jenks said earlier this week. “I don’t have any expectations other than to run fast. I want to give it my all and see how I do.”
If her regular-season resume is any indication, she’ll do very well.
After spending her summer in training for the national triathlon championships (the won the 15-and-under championship at West Chester, Ohio) she took a brief respite from competition before jumping into the mix at the Cedar Rapids Invitational.
She won that race, by 16 seconds. And she has won every race since, usually by wide margins and with eye-popping times — including a season-best 13:21 for 4,000 meters at Dubuque.
The state-meet record is 13:27, set by Katie Flood of West Des Moines Dowling in 2007.
“I’ve got to believe she’s going to be going after that,” said Linn-Mar Coach Todd Goodell.
What else would you expect? Here is a quote from Jenks’ Twitter page, attributed to the late Steve Prefontaine:
“The best race pace is suicide pace, and today looks like a good day to die.”
Jenks started running “as soon as I walked,” she said, and began racing around age 8. She grew up on a farm near Aurora, in the East Buchanan school district, but open-enrolled to Starmont during her elementary days.
In sixth grade, she open-enrolled to Linn-Mar. And the family bought a townhouse not far from the school two years ago while maintaining the farm.
“I came here because Linn-Mar is such a good academic school,” said Jenks, who carries a 4.0 grade point average.
Jenks dominated the middle-school cross country and track scene. Middle-school track meets in Cedar Rapids often have boys and girls in the same distance races, and Jenks routinely outran the boys.
Last fall, as an eighth-grader, she ran with the high-schoolers at the Heartland regional meet. She finished second. Now, she is ranked 24th in the nation by milesplit.com, and would probably be higher if Iowa ran a distance longer than 4K.
So, what sets her apart?
“I don’t know how talented I am,” Jenks said. “I know I work hard. Talent is only going to take you so far, and you don’t know how far it can take you if you don’t have the passion,”
Goodell said, “Her triathlon training makes her such a strong runner,” Goodell said. “It separates her from everyone else.
“A lot of runners are weak in their core, their legs, their hips. But she is so strong.”
Jenks also swims for Linn-Mar in the fall; she generally competed in the 200-yard individual medley, the 500 freestyle and two relays. But because the regional swimming meet is Saturday — the same day as the state cross country meet — her swim season is over.
“I love swimming, running, all of it,” she said. “And when I do triathlons and I’m riding my bike, it feels like we are one.”
It has been six years since a Metro girl won a state cross country championship — Cedar Rapids Xavier’s Meaghan Nelson did it in 2006 — and, though it’s far premature to bring it up, we’ll throw it out there anyway:
No Iowa high school girl has won four state titles.
The 4A field will be fast and strong Saturday. Jenks doesn’t think nerves will be a factor.
“When there are good runners in a race, I don’t get nervous,” she said. “If there’s not a whole lot of people there, that’s when I get nervous.”