Cross-country runners often have a love/hate relationship with their sport. Alter High School senior Perri Bockrath strongly entrenched herself in the latter category early in her running career.
While older sisters Reed and Kate ran cross-country, Perri — then a freshman — considered herself a soccer and basketball athlete. She grudgingly agreed to run because her mom wanted a cross-country photo button to wear with all three of her daughters on it.
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“It was all about the button,” Erin Bockrath said last week, smiling at the memory.
Perri relented and ran. She hated it.
As a sophomore Perri beat Kate, then a senior, for the first time in a race. Perri cried.
“I was heartbroken. I didn’t want to (beat her),” Perri said. “Kate did cross-country for awhile. I never ran. I didn’t care about it at all. I’d just wake up on Saturday and run. For her it was her life. I threw my medal in this pond and I cried to my dad. I was like, ‘This is not my sport. I’m soccer and basketball.’ I later realized this is my sport.
“My cousins were all good basketball players so I kinda thought I had the Bockrath basketball gene. I don’t. I have the running gene. … I never really thought I’d fall so deeply in love with this sport.”
Following her second straight Division II district championship last Saturday, Bockrath flew to the University of Florida for an official visit. The University of Tennessee and Ohio State University are also chasing her.
And it all started with a button.
Bockrath said it was during her sophomore season running with Kate that she grudgingly admitted her mother was right about the sport. Kate helped ease the transition, too.
“It was such a fun year with her,” Perri said. “It helped me a lot to grow.”
“Kate was very supportive,” added Erin. “It really made Perri who she is as a runner.”
Come Saturday, Perri hopes she’s a regional champion. She was running second at last year’s regional meet on the levee in Troy when she collapsed. She was a half mile from the finish. Three times she tried to get up, and even tried to crawl to regain control of her legs.
Alter coach John Davalos said he saw Bockrath at the 2-mile mark of the 3.1-mile course and her eyes looked glassy. He was waiting for her at the finish when he heard a spectator say an Alter girl had fallen. Davalos kneeled beside Bockrath and asked if she was OK.
“She said I can’t get my legs to move faster. I’m trying to go faster but my legs aren’t moving,” Davalos said. “I told her, ‘Perri, you’re not running.’ She ran her body to the maximum and beyond.”
A week or so earlier Bockrath had contracted mononucleosis without realizing it partly because of the rigors of her sport. The virus sapped her strength and it finally caught up to her. When Alter ran on Troy’s course earlier this season, Davalos took Bockrath to the same spot and told her to get past this spot — mentally more than physically.
“I don’t remember the race,” Bockrath said. “I was seeing spots and I passed out. I got up three times before I officially had to call it quits. I saw videos of it and I can’t believe that happened. … It stinks. It’s really unfortunate. But it helped me appreciate the sport even more. Now I realize how passionate I am for the sport.”
Alter finished seventh at the regional meet last season and saw its run of consecutive state appearances end at 12. The team finished fifth at the district meet behind Tippecanoe, Belbrook, Oakwood and Springfield Shawnee. The top four teams advance to the state meet.
As for Bockrath, she wants to finish among the top three — if not win.
“Every single race I know can be the last one of the season. You never know what’s going to come,” Bockrath said. “It really drives me. Every race hurts. I try and put everything I have into each race for my team and myself.
“I didn’t have a chance to go to state last year. It’s definitely my redemption year. I’m ready for it.”
Thanks to her mom’s button.