Natalie Graber has been running all her life, and she’s pretty good at it.
After all, it’s in her blood.
Graber, a seventh grade student at Barr-Reeve, recently gained national attention for her 16th place individual finish, and a third place team finish with her team, The Eagles, at the USA Track and Field National Junior Cross Country Championships in Albuquerque, N.M.
Graber got her first taste of cross country in third grade at the age of eight when she joined the Barr-Reeve junior high cross country team. Graber ran in her first Junior Olympics race, and qualified for Nationals. She wasn’t able to compete, because the race was in Reno, Nev.
At the Indiana State Cross Country Championships in the fall of 2011, Graber met the Baer family who had two girl runners the same age as Natalie and The Eagles team was born. That fall The Eagles ran to a third place finish in the Junior Olympics Cross Country Championships for their age division (11-12) at Myrtle Beach.
The Eagles, ages 11-12, ran to first place in the State and the region 7 qualifying meets, which sent them to the USA Track and Field Junior Olympics Cross Country National Championship Dec. 8 at the Balloon Fiesta Park in Albuquerque, N.M.
In Albuquerque, Graber finished 16th in a field of 263 runners in the midget group, ages 11-12. At the same time, The Eagles placed third out of 23 teams.
Graber said she wasn’t exactly surprised at her high finish, but more excited she was able to accomplish such a feat.
“I tried to do my best,” Graber said. “It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity, and I gave it everything I had.”
Traveling to New Mexico for the championships was a great opportunity, but also presented a new set of challenges for Graber and her teammates. The higher altitude was something none of the other runners had ever experienced.
“A lot of us - we were taking the first kilometer out - and we weren’t supposed to go as hard because of the altitude,” Graber said. “We felt like we were about to die after the first kilometer, because we couldn’t breathe.”
Throughout the entire run in New Mexico, Graber said her favorite aspect of the success was getting to experience the championships with her friends and teammates. One of Graber’s teammates is fellow Barr-Reeve student, eighth grader, Emily Schultheis.
Natalie grew up watching her older cousins excel at cross country, which laid the groundwork for her eventual success. Courtney (Heller) Mathis ran for Barr-Reeve and Chloe Heller starred for Washington.
Both girls represented their schools in the IHSAA Cross Country Championships, all the while Natalie Graber was cheering.
In Graber’s young, but successful cross country career to this point, she said her cousins’ have given her some simple advice on how to handle adversity that may come.
“Whatever happens, and if I have a bad day or something, they encourage me to keep moving forward.”