2009-2010 Gatorade National Girls Cross Country Runner of the Year Megan Goethals would probably understand if you neither knew about her nor her sport.
"I also think it's boring to watch people run," said Goethals in an interview after the Gatorade Athlete of the Year luncheon in Los Angeles on the afternoon before the ESPY Awards on Wednesday. "But just to watch a finish and see everyone's faces and how much effort they put into it, I think people should see that."
The unassuming Goethals might quietly be the University of Washington's biggest recruiting story coming to campus this fall -- she is only the second Gatorade National Athlete of the Year to sign with Washington in any sport during the award's 25-year history with the other being quarterback Brock Huard. In addition to being a four-time Gatorade Michigan award winner in cross country and track & field, Goethals finished her career with only one loss since 2007 and a dramatic Footlocker Girls National Cross-Country championships victory.
For the first time in the 31-year history of the premier high school race in the sport, the top two finishers had the same time.
Megan Goethals of Rochester (Mich.) High was declared the winner in a photo finish. Chelsey Sveinsson of Dallas (Texas) Greenhill School was second. Both girls were given a time of 17:07.
"The finish was amazing," Gabriella Citrin of FootLocker said.
It nearly didn't happen.
Goethals didn't think she had a chance to win, what with her being behind by 15 meters with about 800 to go.
But as she took each stride toward the straightaway, she noticed one thing: Sveinsson was no longer pulling away. In fact, Goethals was starting to gain on her. With that, she began a most amazing finish: Catching, then passing, then holding off Sveinsson.
Goethals is not exactly the type of person who might immediately stand out on Washington's campus as a world class athlete. The 5-foot-8 Goethals has the lanky frame of a typical cross country runner, albeit thin even in the world of runners. Even at first introduction, there would be no reason to assume that the soft-spoken Goethals is among the most decorated high school runners in the nation. And although it's not exactly as though cross country creates the kind of media attention that might go to one's head and create a larger than life personality anyway, Goethals might actually be excessively humble.
"I don't know," said Goethals, when asked what she'd be known for if not cross country. "I mean, I probably wouldn't have done anything that great. I was a basketball player and I thought I was good but I would not have made it."
So in more ways than one, it almost makes perfect sense that the low-key Goethals went for a program whose growing reputation in cross country circles might exceed her own. Despite an offer to stay closer to her home of Rochester, Mich., by attending Michigan State University, Goethals felt the decision to attend the University of Washington was an easy one.
"I had it narrowed down to Georgetown, Michigan State and Washington by the end of the summer -- so those were kind my big three schools," Goethals said. "But I didn't find it that hard to choose Washington. I think just how I felt when I visited there, I just kinda like knew that's where I wanted to go."
Goethals will only add to an already strong University of Washington cross country team that won the National Championship in 2008 and placed third in last year's National Championships, capping three straight top ten finishes at the NCAA championships. In addition to Goethals, Washington's cross country recruiting class includes four of the top ten finishers at the Foot Locker championships.
"I'm so excited to go to Washington," said Goethals. "It's one of the top running programs in the country. It's a beautiful area. I visited there once -- it was a recruiting visit. I loved the campus so much. And I have some friends on the team and I really get along well with them and I like the coach a lot. ... It just seemed very green when I was there. There's a lot of stuff to do outside, like they have a lot of cool trails and such. And I just really liked how outdoorsy the entire city seems."
Although Goethals did not win the Girls Athlete of the Year award at Wednesday's luncheon, she does embody Gatorade's "exemplary character" criteria. In addition to being a member of the National Honors Society, Goethals volunteered with US Youth Soccer TOPSoccer, a community-based training and team placement program for young athletes with disabilities. It was a natural fit for Goethals, who comes from a soccer family and played soccer through 8th grade. For her, the experience of doing something outside of her own sport was rewarding.
"When you're an athlete you dedicate so much time to that, you have to remember there's things besides your sport," said Goethals. "So just doing something that will help someone else or show someone else how to better themselves that's pretty rewarding."
It's unlikely that Goethals will get as much attention as a recruit like quarterback Nick Montana -- son of legendary quarterback Joe Montana -- or find a path to stardom through cross country similar to that of softball's Danielle Lawrie, current UW starting quarterback Jake Locker, or even Quincy Pondexter, a wing recently drafted in the first round by the New Orleans Hornets. But the record suggests that it's rare to have an athlete and person of Goethals' caliber on campus and that's worthy of some recognition, even if you too think watching people run is boring.
"Once you get in with that sport, you have friends for a lifetime," Goethals said. "I just love running and I like the distance. But I also really like the camaraderie of the whole thing."
For more on the 2010 Gatorade Girls High School Athlete of the Year Chiney Ogwumike, please see SBN's Swish Appeal.
For more on Megan Goethals' photo finish at the Footlocker Girls National Cross-Country championships -- including a really cool photo sequence -- please see the Rivals recap here.