Two Loudoun runners have claimed first place at a national competition in San Diego.
“There’s only been one other time in the last 37 years that two kids from the same state have even won,” Heritage High School cross country coach Doug Gilbert said. “So two kids from 10 miles away from each other is unbelievable.”
Drew Hunter, a senior at Loudoun Valley High School, and Weini Kelati, a Heritage High School junior, finished first in the Foot Locker Cross Country Championships national finals Saturday.
Hunter and Kelati are well known and well respected in Loudoun’s running community. Hunter has had an outstanding and well-reported season, while Eritrean immigrant Kelati just recently made headlines with her win.
“Just having those two around has been a big boost for the running community around here,” Gilbert said.
Runners leading up to the competition were mentored by Olympians and professional athletes, including one of Kelati’s idols, Eritrean-born Olympic marathoner Meb Keflezighi.
Kelati finished her race steps ahead of a runner from Peoria, IL, despite an injury. Lower leg pains started a week ago, only days before she left to compete in San Diego. With no time to make it to a doctor, Kelati resorted to warming her legs up every morning in a hot tub.
“It was a pretty heroic performance,” Gilbert said of Kelati’s 3-mile run. “I know it was hurting her pretty badly during the race.”
Hunter, meanwhile, has already been setting records with his season and committed to a full ride at Oregon University. He said he was happy to finish his high school running career with a bang, and plans to keep running ahead.
“I’m going to go to Oregon for four years and run there, hopefully win some NCAA championships, and hopefully keep running professionally after,” Hunter said.
Loudoun Valley cross country is very much a family affair—the coach and assistant coach are Hunter’s parents, Marc and Joan Hunter. The Hunters took their son to the national championships last year, too.
“It’s been a goal of his since last year to come back and win,” Joan Hunter said.
Drew Hunter, who led the pack from very early in the race, said he couldn’t complain about having his parents for coaches.
“It’s really good, because our team was really good this year, and they’ve really helped everyone get better,” he said. “And yeah, it’s been fun.”