Quite the run
4-time champion Powell continues to dream big
by Chris Goltermann
Sixth graders, take note. You’re never too young to dream big.
Just ask Ruthie Powell.
Five years ago, The Heritage School junior found herself on the school’s 1-mile warmup cross-country course not knowing much about the sport, but compelled to “follow in the footsteps” of former Lady Hawks standout runner Elizabeth Ginn.
Has she ever.
Powell continued to add to her own legacy last month by capturing an unprecedented fourth consecutive GISA individual state championship while adding another title for Heritage’s cross-country program under the guidance of longtime coach Frank Marchman.
Under Marchman’s guidance, the school has won a dozen state championships since 2002 divided equally among girls (2003-06, 2010-11) and boys (2002, 2004-06, 2010-11). The list of individual winners between programs is equally lengthy including Powell’s cousin, Margaret, who set a state-record in the mile for Heritage in 1995.
Yet Ruthie has gone from a promising prospect in middle school to one who has become the standard for the program’s current successes.
The Heritage School junior, who comes from an athletic family that includes sisters Lydia, an alumnus who starred in basketball and soccer, and Zofia, a standout on the Lady Hawks’ Final Four volleyball team, just might not have realized the magnitude of her own accomplishments.
“That’s what I was trying to get across to her [about her accomplishment] and I don’t think she understands that yet,” Marchman said. “You have to do it all in one day. She could be great all year and that day, some other girl could beat her out. There’s a lot of mental toughness involved. I’ve looked all throughout GISA in cross country and I haven’t found anybody else that’s done what she’d done.”
Marchman has relied on younger runners to keep both programs going strong, especially with Heritage adding volleyball in 2011.
“We’ve had some good runners and good people,” said Marchman, who was able to put together a varsity girls lineup in time for this year’s state meet that placed eighth to go with a third-place finish from the Hawks. “I’m just fortunate here at Heritage to get people to come out.”
Outlasting Augusta Prep eighth grader Jamie Holodek in 19:43 to win this year’s Class AAA girls championship at the state course in Loganville, Powell continued to put together sub-20 times worthy of putting her among the best runners in the Georgia High School Association.
Holodek did her best to challenge the Lady Hawks’ No. 1 runner, staying with her through the 2-mile mark. Powell admits that it equally helped bring the best out of her after running a much slower mark of 20:22 while winning the Region 1-AAA championship by a 25-second margin on the same course nine days earlier.
“There was a girl this year that I didn’t have any idea about [Holodek] and she kept up with me until about mile two. My comfort zone is wait until 1-2 miles and go from there,” Powell said. “She definitely helped me run the time.”
Had Powell kept the pace of her most recent title winning effort at this year’s GHSA state meet — be it among a very challenging course at Carrollton — Powell would have placed sixth in the Class A private school race, won the Class A public event and placed second in AA, AAA or AAAA girls runs.
With a personal best of 18:41, her times have consistently dropped since emerging as a Class AA state champion as an eighth grader in 2010 in Macon with a time of 20:10. Powell repeated the following year in 20:02 then kept the run of titles going in 2012 despite Heritage making a jump to the GISA’s highest classification.
Ever since her first run as a sixth grader, though, Powell has made it her goal to find the front of the pack. Like any pure runner, it started with a passion for speed and the feel of her heels kicking up behind her.
“I like to run. Whenever we did [physical education], I liked it,” she said. “I remember watching Elizabeth Ginn race. She was really good and I wanted to follow in her footsteps.”
That fall, Powell found herself with Ginn, an AA champion in 2006 and 2007, along with Heritage’s seniors on the varsity warm-up trail and remembers immediately finding herself comfortable in her surroundings.
“I remember we ran pretty fast,” Powell said, “and I loved it.”
Her first middle school race at George Walton as a sixth grader in a 1 ½-2-mile event ended with the first of many victories to come, eventually easing into 5K varsity runs over the next two years.
“I was actually worried about it,” said Powell recalling the first 5K race of her career, which was held at Oak Mountain in Carrollton. “It wasn’t that bad, because in middle school, you’re sprinting a lot. In 5k it’s going along at your own pace.”
Success has carried over onto the track for Heritage, where she has excelled in the spring in the 800, 1,600 and 3,200, sweeping the three events in last year’s Class AAA state track meet in Albany.
It hasn’t come easy, though. Powell feels she’s dedicated herself to training and setting goals each year.
“Running is a really hard sport. I guess I’ve learned that I can push myself a lot harder than I know I can,” she said. “It just doesn’t happen. I train for it every year. I think I know I can do it. It’s just I have to put the work in.”
Marchman, who can vouch for the effort, feels that his No. 1 runner has the talent to excel at the college level. But he also admits there’s still areas for her to build on.
“She puts in the time,” said the Heritage School coach. “I’ve been telling the college coaches, her potential’s still not there yet.”
The thought of competing at the next level excites Powell, who is just as active in school as a member of Heritage’s SGA and Key Club while also playing basketball during the winter months. But she also understands some of the process is out of her control.
“Running in college is definitely a goal. I would love to do that. I’m just have to try to keep my options open and see what happens. I’m going to run well this track season and get my times down,” she said. ‘I’ve been to camps and they say you just have to do your thing and be lucky. We’re e-mailing coaches and we’ll just see how it goes.”
The daughter of Dr. Jack and Allison Powell can also see herself possibly following in another family tradition as part of a seventh generation to practice medicine in Coweta with interests in physical therapy and a possible pre-med major in college.
Up first, however, is a chance next fall to finish out her cross-country career with an potential fifth individual championship.
“That’s my goal,” she said. “I just have to keep on dreaming really hard.”