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Swanson ends career with a race of smiles

Somerset senior Anya Swanson (1474) had a glowing smile in her last career high school race at the Division 2 sectional meet at Hayward. Dave Newman / RiverTown Multimedia1 / 3
Anya Swanson (205) is shown competing during the 2016 WIAA Division 2 State Cross-Country Championships. Bob Burrows / RiverTown Multimedia2 / 3
When she was injured and on crutches, Swanson was still a presence, cheering on teammates and runners from opposing teams. Here Swanson (center) is shown cheering on a teammate during the Middle Border Conference race. Dave Newman / RiverTown Multimedia3 / 3

Anya Swanson ended her high school cross-country career on her terms.

And she's just fine with that.

Swanson qualified for the WIAA Division 2 state championships in each of her first three seasons at Somerset High School, becoming recognized as one of the marquee distance runners in western Wisconsin.

Her senior season was supposed to bring the greatest success for Swanson, the defending sectional and Middle Border Conference champion. But injuries intervened. A pelvic apophyseal avulsion fracture in her hip was diagnosed after several weeks of running in pain. This is an injury common to teenagers in several sports, primarily running and soccer.

The injury put Swanson on crutches for several weeks and ended her hopes of defending her conference championship and returning to the state meet.

Once off the crutches, just a week before the Division 2 sectional meet, the doctors told Swanson she could try jogging. She couldn't do further damage, but it was a matter of pain tolerance. She tried to run hard the day before the sectional meet and found there was still considerable pain when she tried to build up speed.

That wasn't going to stop Swanson competing in the sectional meet. Though her gait looked more like she was 80 than 18, she limped around the hilly course at the Hayward sectional meet. And even though she could build no speed, she did manage to finish ahead of two other runners.

Swanson and Somerset coach Abby Demulling explained that the fracture and the down time that followed resulted in the muscles not firing in the area of the injury. Swanson said the pace at which she ran wasn't overly painful, but that it was awkward to take a normal stride with the muscles in her leg not cooperating fully.

Still, throughout the entire sectional race, Swanson had a smile on her face. She said it was a smile of being able to run one more race, to be able to end her career on her terms instead of a doctor or coach telling her she was done. She crossed the finish line at the sectional meet with her arms raised in victory, her teammates waiting to support her.

Seeing Swanson smiling at a race is something that was rare until this season. In her first three seasons, opposing runners only saw her steely, competitive side. Swanson readily admits she's quite competitive. Christensen told Swanson that she's "a quiet cocky. You'd never say it, but you want to beat everybody."

Swanson said she enjoys races most when she's got someone who is challenging her. That didn't happen in most of the races the past two years, where she often ran alone, far ahead of any challengers.

The numerous race wins, often by a large margin, led to something of a tradition. Swanson began greeting the other runners in races after they crossed the finish line. She said at first it was just her teammates, but it grew to where she was there to offer an encouraging word to runners from every competing school.

And in the races where she couldn't compete because of the injury, Swanson was all over the course, even on her crutches, cheering for everyone she knew.

Swanson's next major goal is to be fully healthy by the soccer season. She's been a starter on the Spartan soccer team most of her high school career and said she thinks the Spartans have the chance to be a very good team next spring. And if you think Swanson's competitive nature shows in cross-country, you should watch her play soccer. Despite being one of the smallest players on the field, she's easily one of the most physical and aggressive players.

Swanson said she's applying to three colleges, North Dakota State University, St. Katherine's University and the University of Minnesota-Duluth. She said she's still contemplating whether she'll run at college, saying St. Kate's told her she could compete in both sports there.

"Maybe, we'll see," Swanson said on running at college. "It's fun, but it's also a lot of work. I love it and hate it. I love having a team more than anything."

Dave Newman
Dave Newman has been the sports editor at the New Richmond News since 1988. He has covered the action in the Middle Border Conference, Dunn-St. Croix Conference and Big Rivers Conference for nearly 30 years.
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