This time last year, First Baptist Christian cross country standout Gabrielle Jennings had a simple way to sum it all up.
“One is an honor. Two is just really an honor.”
That was after Jennings had been named the Louisiana Gatorade Cross Country Runner of the Year winner for a second straight year.
So her thoughts Thursday after winning the honor for a third straight year?
“It’s just such an achievement,” said Jennings, a junior at the Slidell school. “It doesn’t get old. Every single day is with new obstacles. Every season changes. Every race is different. You just have to run in the moment.”
The 5-foot-6 Jennings won the award after claiming her seventh consecutive Class C individual state championship with a time of 19 minutes, 14.9 seconds this past season. She first won a state title as a fifth grader.
Jennings’ times of 17:34.22 at the St. Thomas Aquinas Rollette Invitational and 18:15.77 at the Jesse Owens Classic, ranked as the fastest 3-mile and 5K clocking among Louisiana competitors this past fall.
Including her state titles in indoor and outdoor track, Jennings has racked up an amazing 31 state titles. She was named The New Orleans Advocate’s Most Valuable Runner on The New Orleans Advocate’s All-Metro Cross Country Team.
But the Gatorade award recognizes more than just her athletic success. It also recognizes high standards of academic achievement and exemplary character demonstrated on and off the race course.
Jennings is now a finalist for the Gatorade National Girls Cross Country Runner of the Year award to be announced later this month.
Also an accomplished artist, dancer and swimmer, Jennings has a 3.93 grade-point average and has served in the school’s student government.
In addition to donating her time as a youth running instructor, she has volunteered on behalf of her church community, the First Baptist Christian School, the National Beta Club and World Vision, a Christian humanitarian organization.
She admits its tough juggling that load, often staying up until 1:30 a.m. to get everything done.
“I’m not going to lie,” she said. “At times, it can be very overbearing and stressful. But this is the reason I do it. Both of my parents are very dedicated, so I definitely get it from them.”
She stays so busy that she hasn’t had much time to open the numerous letters from colleges recruiting her.
Some of the colleges that have shown interest in Jennings include Wake Forest, Duke, Georgia, North Carolina State and Oklahoma.
“She is practically unrivaled among all classifications in the state in terms of ability and accomplishment,” said Scotti Jowers, coach at Claiborne Christian School.
Jennings joins former St. Thomas Aquinas runner Malia Cali as Louisiana’s only three-time winner. Cali won it in 2007, 2008 and 2009.
Jennings can surpass Cali next season and win it for a fourth time.
“I know there aren’t too many to have done that in the United States,” Jennings said. “That would be big. I just look back at how far I have come.”