By Garrett Mitchell
The legend of Woodruff cross country runner Maggie Rhodes has grown larger than her average margin of victory.
The Wolverines’ junior star, embattled most of the season by injury, pulled off perhaps her greatest feat yet by running away with her fourth consecutive individual Class 3A state championship in possibly the gutsiest race she has ever ran.
Her official race time, 19:19, wasn’t Rhodes’ personal best, but it was her best time of the season on the season’s grandest stage. By the time she crossed the finish line, a full four seconds ahead of her nearest competitor, Rhodes was clearly on fumes.
“I’ve been hurt almost this whole season,” Rhodes said. “I knew I was going to have to run as hard as I possibly could to win. I tried to start off as fast as I can and then by the first half mile I knew who my competition was going to be and I kept my pace off of them.”
The race, held at The Carolina Cup course in Camden instead of the usual Sandhills course, was a change in venue from years past and a piece of terrain that Rhodes had to adjust to.
“Sandhills is more of my favorite course because it has a hill or two,” she said. “This course was flat the entire way so I realized I had to keep up the same pace.”
Woodruff cross country coach Ty Skinner has watched Rhodes run for several years and never ceases to be amazed at her fighting spirit in the face of adversity.
“What’s crazy is, knowing Maggie for the last few years and watching what she’s been able to accomplish, it’s not surprising,” Skinner said. “The kind of runner and the kind of competitor that she is, she’s going to give her absolute best in moments like this when it matters the most.”
Rhodes will take the winter sports season off to rest and heal, but will look to defend even more individual state championships during the spring track and field season where she excels as a distance runner. Rhodes will then have one more season, as a senior, to win a remarkable fifth cross country championship in 2020.
Rhodes was happy with her championship performance this season, however.
“I’m very happy with my time,” she added. “It was my personal best for the season.”
Added Skinner, “I think right now Maggie’s biggest competitor is herself. Her competition is herself. She wants to be the absolute best and I have no doubt she will put in the time and the work to come back next year even better than she was this year.”