Steamboat Springs Chris Zirkle’s senior season running cross-country was noteworthy for obvious reasons.
The Hayden home-schooled senior, completing his fourth year running for Moffat County High School, placed third last weekend at the Class 4A state championship in Aurora.
That finish actually was among his worst of the season — he won seven consecutive races through the middle of the Bulldogs’ schedule. Zirkle’s not the kind of athlete to accept less than his best, but he came away from the final race pleased with his time and his placing.
Third place at state and seven meet wins in nine races only start to tell the story of Zirkle’s 2010 cross-country season, and they only start to tell of the success he enjoyed.
It was Sept. 25, and Zirkle was nearing the third consecutive win in his streak. This one was special. It was Moffat County’s home meet.
He ran with teammate Alfredo Lebron for much of the race, but Zirkle pulled away at the end.
As usual, Chris Zirkle’s father, Doug Zirkle, was cheering throughout the race, dashing around Craig’s Loudy-Simpson Park to cheer in as many places as he could.
Then, something happened — a pain.
Doug Zirkle went to the car and missed the finish, which Chris Zirkle said he was immediately aware of.
After the race, the Zirkle crew returned home, but an hour later an ambulance was rushing Doug to the hospital. He’d sustained a heart attack at the end of the race.
“It was pretty scary,” Chris Zirkle recalled. “It was really unexpected.”
It was a terrifying couple of days for the family. Doug Zirkle, whose condition was complicated by Type 1 diabetes, was taken to the Heart Center of the Rockies in Fort Collins. By Tuesday, the family found out he’d be OK.
Even though running suddenly took a back seat, Chris Zirkle said that news allowed him to retain his focus. A week later, he was again atop a cross-country race, beating the field in Fruita. As the streak wore on, taking Chris Zirkle to the lead of the pack of the state cross-country race, Doug Zirkle kept cheering.
“He was hobbled for a couple of weeks,” Chris said. “His heart is actually perfect now. It was an answered prayer, a miracle pretty much.”
Chris has big plans for the rest of his senior year.
He’ll run another cross-country race this month, trying to win a chance to run at a national championship meet.
Then, he plans to train throughout the winter harder than he ever has in preparation for next spring’s track season, when he’ll represent Hayden High School.
He medaled at state in both the 3,200 and 1,600 last year, but is intent on doing better.
“I definitely want to focus on winning the 3,200 this year,” he said. “It’s going to be hard.”
It’s something he’ll be able to focus on with one of his biggest fans cheering him along.