Eva Klingbeil’s high school cross country career is a narrative full of pain and disappointment. At the heart is a story of perseverance, and the end — well, that’s a tale of a champion.
The Niwot senior rewrote a running career that had been tainted by injury by winning the Class 4A state cross country race last month.
A year after missing the biggest meet in Colorado altogether, the far-from-favorite senior ran away with the title in a time of 17 minutes, 58.90 seconds — nearly 25 seconds faster than the rest of the field.
“I really didn’t expect this at all,” said Klingbeil, who also had the overhead announcer confused at the Norris Penrose Event Center when she, and not 4A darling Bethany Michalak of Air Academy, came into the stadium first. “It came as a surprise.”
Niwot coach Kelly Christensen was among those who rejoiced for a runner that had long been dealt bad luck. He called her the “toughest athlete I’ve ever coached.”
“She definitely had a lot of rock-bottom moments as an athlete, pretty much always going through injuries,” Christensen said. “She’s definitely persevered. She’s got more grit than anyone on this team.”
Among the trials she faced, Klingbeil broke her foot as a freshman. She didn’t tell anyone and ran through the pain the rest of the season. That then snowballed into rehab and more injuries over the next 2 1/2 years until she finally found a stretch of good health and strong training around last track season.
“My team is probably the biggest reason why I kept coming back and kept running through injuries,” Klingbeil said. “At state, I was definitely not running for myself. I was running for my teammates.”
The moment wasn’t lost on them, either.
“It’s something special,” teammate and BoCoPreps boys runner of the year Zane Bergen said. “It’s such an attributing factor to her story to battle through all those injuries. I will say not a lot of people could have done what she did … and not quitting. It says a lot about her character and about her drive as a human being. She might not be the most talented on the day, but she is going to work 10 times harder than everyone else.”
Klingbeil was one of six Niwot runners inside the top 11 at the state meet.
Mia Prok, the 4A individual runner-up and BoCoPreps runner of the year in 2020, added a third-place finish while Niwot won its fourth straight team title — scoring 20 points compared to runner-up Battle Mountain’s 138. Bella Nelson was fifth, Stella Vieth eighth, Sarah Perkins ninth and Madison Shults 11th.
Crossing the finish line all alone, Klingbeil flashed a pair of peace signs to the roar of the crowd. She caught her breath and turned back to the course as her teammates poured in.
“It’s really special, the team title,” Klingbeil said. “It’s like our team, we are so close. It’s so special to see the team get this.”