Junior Panther Competes On National Level With Very Best
• Peninsula High junior reaches season goals after months of hard work and training.
Peninsula High School junior Aishling Callanan ran in the girls Championship Race at the West Cross Country Regionals on Dec. 4, which qualified her for the Cross Country Nationals, which took place on Dec. 11 in San Diego.
Callanan, a member of the Peninsula’s girls varsity cross country team, was one of 40 in the nation to qualify.
Her West region, consist of runners from Alaska, Arizona, California, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, Washington and Wyoming.The other regions are the Northeast, South and Midwest.
Taking place at Mt. San Antonio College in Walnut, Callanan ran the 5,000-meter course, which included two steep climbs, rolling hills, dirt trails and cement trails against about 150 other runners from girls’ cross country teams within the West region. She was among only 10 in the region to qualify for Nationals.
“I was super excited to find out I qualified,” Callanan said. “It was one of my goals I set at the start of the season, and I knew it would be really hard and I had to have a good race.”
Callanan has been on Peninsula’s girls varsity cross country team since her freshman year, practicing consistently and working to continue improving her race times and building endurance. The team practices six days a week, only taking Sundays off and engaging in a longer morning race every Saturday at 7:30 a.m.
During the week, the team practices after school. In what the team considers “easy days,” they run four to five miles at a slower pace, and on “hard days” they participate in workouts and run in shorter intervals at faster speeds. Though this rigorous training schedule may seem difficult, Callanan’s passion for running continues to motivate her.
“I like the competitiveness of [running],” Callanan said. “I really enjoy going out for runs, being around my team and getting to push myself. The goals I set for myself drive me a lot, but also my team, family and coaches all help to support me and encourage me to get to the places I want to be.”
As Callanan mentioned, a main motivator has been her coach Chris Foster. Foster has been coaching at Peninsula for seven years, coaching Callanan since freshman year and watching her grow as a runner.
She previously ran for Miraleste Intermediate School’s cross country team, arriving at Peninsula with little experience under her belt but a determination to push herself.
“She was kind of inexperienced when she first came to the high school program, but she was an incredible athlete,” Foster said. “She is incredibly competitive and would always find one more gear. The thing that separates Aishling is when she starts to hurt, she starts to suffer, but she always comes back from it. When a young runner starts to fade, they do not usually come back, but she comes back almost every time.”
This ability to recover quickly and maintain the strength to keep a consistent, fast pace while running is a large contributor to Callanan’s success. Additionally, she fully applies herself during every practice, going the extra mile to continue to improve.
During practices, Foster—a former triathlete–-runs alongside the runners, encouraging Callanan to constantly push herself by running each course with her. She also often runs with the boys’ varsity cross country team.
“She puts in a lot of work, running long hours without her teammates in the morning,” Foster said. “She is also working out alongside a lot of tough guys, She does most of her runs with the boys. She would be our third or fourth boy on the team; that is just how fast she is. Aishling has had to work on her own, and that can be doubly challenging,” Foster said.
The hard work is paying off, as evident with her qualifying for Nationals. Seven members of the team originally ran at each meet, progressing all the way to California Interscholastic Federation (CIF) Division finals.
However, the team did not qualify for the CIF State Cross Country Championship, though Callanan progressed individually. Making it all the way to Nationals is incredibly impressive, as she is the first from Palos Verdes to progress this far in more than a decade.
“I could not find any record of anyone from Peninsula making it [to Nationals] in the last 15 years, though it has probably been longer than that,” Foster said. “They do not enter kids according to school with this race; you see their town, not Peninsula. [Still,] I could not find anything from either [Palos Verdes High School or PVPHS] in the last 15 years.”
Nationals took place on Dec. 11 at Balboa Park in San Diego. Though with each race there was always another to qualify for, Nationals signified the end of the road.
“There is nowhere you can go beyond [Nationals],” Foster said. “It is just a humongous honor to be on the starting line because only 40 girls across the whole country get to race. [Nationals] is a big celebration; the honor is just getting in.”
Though this race marked the end of meets, Callanan is continuing to train. Cross country season begins training in June and lasts until January, and November, December and January consist of winter training practices.
In the spring, Callanan and most of the cross country runners go into distance track, continuing to run and train year-round. Additionally, as Callanan is a junior, she is beginning the college recruitment process, looking beyond high school at the future possibilities.
“I definitely want to run in college and have been talking to many coaches,” Callanan said. “I am just starting the process and trying to figure out what I am interested in.”