On Friday, Oct. 9, Ali Cunningham prepared for her third race of the season being at the Jimmie Invitational. Despite always being in the contest late in races throughout her entire career, she never knew what it was like to officially place first, her highest placement being second. But on Friday, Cunningham finally felt the sweet taste of first place.
The freshman out of Glasgow, MT finished first place at the Jimmie Invite with an official time of 20:19, officially being the young runner’s first time ever placing first in either high school or college. Cunningham placed sixth at the Herb Blakely Invite in the first run of her college career in September and placed third at the Blue Hawk’s Invitational only a little over a week before the Jamestown Invitational.
“It felt really good, honestly I never won ever in high school, I’ve taken second place most of the time, mainly to my teammate or something,” Cunningham said. “It just felt really good to win and I honestly didn’t think that I was going to win until I crossed the finish line.”
Going into the race, Cunningham received her bib with her number only being one number -- one.
“I’ve never actually had such a cool bib number so I got the bib number, number one. We were actually joking about it earlier saying, ‘I have to win, because I have number one,’" she said. “I honestly didn’t think that I was going to win. I thought that my teammate, Piper (Perez), was going to win. That was more sort of the goal that we put out, we wanted to stay together and pass valley city girls. I wasn’t ever really thinking that I’d win.”
Cunningham may have not thought about winning, or felt she had the chance to win, until the realization that she was indeed the first to place. Cunningham said it did not sink in until both the men’s and women’s team were congratulating her on her accomplishment.
The now first-place winner was happy with the result, but credited her teammates on her achievement and she will continue to push forward.
“I just want to run the best that I can every single race. Whether it’s a (personal record) or winning more races, as long as it’s a good race I feel like I’ll be happy,” she said.
Despite always being an athlete and loving sports, the young athlete grew up playing basketball and volleyball, but never really found much love for either game. It was Cunningham’s father, who was a former cross country athlete himself, that slowly got the idea of cross country into his daughter’s head.
In her freshman year of high school, Cunningham not only made the varsity team, but made it to state. From there, Cunningham was hooked on the idea of officially being a cross country athlete.
“I realized maybe this is something that I’ll be good at instead of team sports and then I really decided that I wanted to commit more so I quit the other sports and I trained all the time and put more effort into it that I gave it the first year and it got me here,” she said.
Even with the success she garnered throughout high school in the sport of cross country, Cunningham was never able to be the first one to cross the finish line. Even missing the All-State team to her own teammate her senior year of high school, which Cunningham admitted was hard to get over.
When it seemed as if her career of cross country was over, Shayne Wittkupp of Dickinson State University gave the then senior hope and allowed her to continue her path of being a college athlete.
The freshman came in along with a series of newcomers on the women’s team. Along with Perez from Burns, WY came Sonja Lawrence of Las Vegas, NV and Alexius Miller from Bowman, ND.
Cunningham said she loves all of her teammates, but is thankful for the newcomers she came in with.
“They're just really a good group of girls and I really like them,” she said.
The freshman said she will continue to have confidence within herself and her teammates and will continue to do her very best to bring the most success to the Blue Hawks throughout the rest of her career as a DSU athlete.