There was never a time in Arne Ellefson-Carnes’ life that wasn’t connected to the Juneau-Douglas High School cross country team. His mom, Merry, became the team’s assistant coach when Arne was almost 1 year old.
The team soon turned into a sort of extended family for Ellefson-Carnes, babysitting him in various Southeast outposts while his mom’s hands were tied with coaching. Merry’s husband and Arne’s dad, Wayne, was away two weekends every month as an Alaska Marine Highway System captain. More often than not, Ellefson-Carnes traveled with his mom and the team wherever they went.
The team culture of support and teamwork the youngster grew up in has fostered a love of the sport for the now JDHS senior captain, who will race in his final home meet on Saturday at 2 p.m. at Sandy Beach for the Region V Cross Country Championships.
The meet starts at 10:45 a.m. with a blessing and Tlingit acknowledgment of ancestral land. The Girls Division II race is at 11:45 a.m. followed by the Girls Division I race at 12:30 p.m., Boys Division II race at 1:15 p.m. and Boys Division I race at 2 p.m..
Ellefson-Carnes said he wasn’t sold on cross country — specifically racing — when he first entered high school.
While on the Juneau Community Charter School running team, Ellefson-Carnes vomited in several races. A confidence-building 3-kilometer time trial and meeting new friends during his freshman year helped to ease his racing anxiety. He went on to have a breakout season, posting the second fastest freshman time (17:28) at the state meet at Bartlett High School. Prior to the season, he just hoped to finish a 5K in under 20 minutes.
“I just remember realizing like, ‘Wow, this is a strength, this is something I’m good at,’” Ellefson-Carnes said. “And this is something where the community of people around me is just so fun. It’s a win-win situation, and so I just started to really enjoy running.”
Ellefson-Carnes continued to improve over the next two seasons, but only marginally. He improved his 5K time by 10 seconds his sophomore year and two his junior year, but took another big leap this season, improving by close to 30 seconds.
“The part of the race I look forward to is when you just can’t run any faster and it’s all based on how hard you can push yourself mentally after that,” he said. “I know when it comes down to that, I know I can break people, I have a confidence in my mental will to break people.”
Growing up, Ellefson-Carnes naturally gravitated toward runners with a similar tough mental state. He can recall the shock that came over him when Sage Thibodeau upset Zack Bursell to the win the 2009 Ketchikan Invitational. Just last weekend, Ellefson-Carnes matched Thibodeau’s time of 16:10 at the Ketchikan meet. It’s the second-fastest time ever recorded at the meet — just one of several examples of Ellefson-Carnes’ running prowess. Ellefson-Carnes hasn’t lost a race in Southeast Alaska since his sophomore year and has captured the last two Region V individual titles. With another win in Saturday’s Region V championship meet, Ellefson-Carnes can become the only runner on record to three-peat.
“Arne’s been the beneficiary of a really powerful and connected culture,” Ellefson said.
Running — especially cross country running — held a special place in Ellefson’s heart even before starting coaching. Her brother, Lyndon, was a nationally-renown runner on the U.S. Mountain Running Team. Lyndon inspired Merry to run herself, which she did until it got too difficult. Lyndon died tragically after falling into a crevasse in the Italian Alps while training for the 1998 Skyrunning Running Championships.
“He was my mentor and running was something we shared. He got me on my cross country team in high school,” Ellefson said. “I kind of fell apart and just needed a break from the sport.”
Her son’s performance last weekend — the strongest of his career to date, setting a new personal record at 16:10 — proved to be a touching moment for Ellefson. It was one of her final times coaching her son, but it also filled her with memories of her brother.
“I just wanted to call my brother because he loved running and that joy of sport — Arne’s got it,” Ellefson said. “It’s the sport that’s so much more than putting one leg in front of the other fast when you talk about all these other things connected to it.”
• Contact sports reporter Nolin Ainsworth at 523-2272 or firstname.lastname@example.org.