Juneau-Douglas High School senior Sadie Tuckwood runs with a big lead during the Ketchikan Invitational cross-country meet at Ward Lake in Ketchikan on Saturday, Sept. 21, 2019. Tuckwood finished first with a time of 18 minutes, 8 seconds. (Dustin Safranek | Ketchikan Daily News)

Juneau-Douglas High School senior Sadie Tuckwood runs with a big lead during the Ketchikan Invitational cross-country meet at Ward Lake in Ketchikan on Saturday, Sept. 21, 2019. Tuckwood finished first with a time of 18 minutes, 8 seconds. (Dustin Safranek | Ketchikan Daily News)

A team player: Juneau star runner grows into leadership role

Sadie Tuckwood gears up for final prep cross country races

Ask Sadie Tuckwood what she credits for her running success, and her answer might surprise you.

The prolific runner for Juneau-Douglas High School: Yadaat.at Kalé doesn’t trumpet how many miles she runs every day, or how well she takes care of her body. She doesn’t use the occasion to gloat in her abilities or allude to having more heart than others. Rather, the even-keeled 17-year-old points to the efforts of everyone but herself.

“If your whole team’s getting faster, then you don’t really want to not get faster too,” she said in a recent interview with the Empire.

Over the next week, Tuckwood — the former state champion and Gatorade State Runner of the Year — will close the chapter on a decorated prep cross country career that includes wins all across the panhandle. A month ago, she broke the girls course record at the Capital City Invitational. More recently, she set a new 5-kilometer personal record, finishing the Palmer Invitational in 17 minutes, 43 seconds.

Tuckwood’s growth as a teammate and leader have been noteworthy too, though. Beneath the senior’s placid demeanor is someone who cares just as much about her teammates’ races as her own, and who makes sure her younger sister, Skylar, 14, doesn’t feel any pressure to follow in her muddy footprints.

“She really lifts up other people with (the) experience and success that she’s had,” teammate Katie McKenna said. “I think that’s one of Sadie’s greatest characteristics.”

Those are the type of qualities the cross country program tries to impart to its athletes, JDHS co-coach Tristan Knutson-Lombardo said.

“If you can’t set a goal or do something for yourself, do it for your teammates — that’s kind of our motto,” the coach said. “And I think Sadie has really grown in that respect from her freshman year to now her senior year. That’s not saying she was selfish her freshman year or anything at all. But really her ability to see the forest for the trees and look at the 10,000-foot level.”

“She picks up on things about her teammates,” he added. “If they had an off race, she notices, ‘Oh, I remember them talking about they didn’t get a lot of sleep the night before or they just felt off that day.’ It’s really become for her about her team at large.”

She was a relative unknown in Southeast just three years ago. Her family — dad, Tim, mom, Cindy, and sisters, Skylar and Rayna — moved to Juneau from Dillingham a couple of months before Tuckwood’s freshman year.

Her time of 18:16 in the 2016 state meet remains the fastest ever for a ninth-grader at the Alaska state championships. Two years later, Tuckwood mounted the top of the state podium again and this time she brought company: The JDHS girls claimed their first team state championship in over two decades, scoring a meet-low 71 points.

Tuckwood won her fourth-consecutive Region V championship on Saturday and will appear in her fourth state meet this weekend.

“I just want to run hard and be happy with how I do,” Tuckwood said.

• Contact sports reporter Nolin Ainsworth at 523-2272 or nainsworth@juneauempire.com.

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