MISSOULA -- Last year, Sage Brooks was switching between JV and varsity cross country due to knee injuries.
This year, she has been one of the state’s best distance runners.
Brooks, a junior at Missoula Hellgate High, took fifth place at the state cross country meet back in October. On Saturday, she will be one of two Montanans running at Nike Cross Nationals in Portland, Oregon, one of the most prestigious races in the country.
“I’m super excited. It’s something I’ve been thinking about since the beginning of the season,” Brooks said. “I had some setbacks and thought that it would be way harder to achieve, and just getting to go is so exciting.
“I’m a little nervous but mostly just really excited that I got the opportunity and that I’m going to be able to go.”
Brooks and Helena High sophomore Kylie Hartnett, who won the Class AA state cross country title this season, will be the only two runners from Montana at NXN.
Brooks took ninth at Nike Cross Regionals Northwest in Boise, Idaho, on Nov. 16 while Hartnett was 10th as both runners made the cut.
Brooks dealt with a knee injury a few weeks prior to the state cross country meet. So as she prepared for the regional race in Boise, her goal was to run a fast race again and get back on track with where she was before the injury.
“As soon as I started racing (at regionals) and I felt good and I realized I was in a position that I might be able to put myself in a spot to go (to nationals),” Brooks said. “I was definitely thinking about that during the race.”
And she did just that as she qualified with the ninth-place finish in a time of 17 minutes, 50.90 seconds.
“I didn’t actually know I was ninth. I thought I was 13th,” she said with a laugh. “I saw my time and realized I had a huge personal best and I was just so happy. I almost started crying because I was so happy.”
Brooks ran with several Hellgate teammates as well who attended the meet. Now, Brooks will head to Portland on Thursday where she will get the uniforms Nike gives to the competitors. On Friday she will do a tour of the course and there will also be a Q&A with other Nike athletes.
Then on Saturday she’ll race at the Glendoveer Golf Course.
Hellgate coach Anders Brooker said before the season that Brooks would be a distance runner to watch for the Knights. After dealing with knee injuries as a sophomore, she broke through this season for Hellgate as the Knights finished second as a team at state.
Despite the minor setback before the state meet, Brooks has been achieving above and beyond expectations which will be capped by Saturday’s race at NXN.
“It means a lot to me and it also has been a really good lesson on how you just have to sometimes push through and overcome things and work through hard stuff,” Brooks said. “I’m looking forward to going out there to race one more time and have fun.”