MHSAA - Concord's Samantha Saenz runs for her late sister in Division 4 state title win

MHSAA - Concord's Samantha Saenz runs for her late sister in Division 4 state title win

Provided by MLive

By Tony Garcia [email protected]

BROOKLYN -Samantha Saenz has maintained throughout her career that winning a high school cross country championship was her No. 1 goal before college.

On Saturday, her final opportunity, she achieved just that.

Concord's senior led wire-to-wire to win the Division 4 girls cross country state championship in 18:16.80. And while Saenz just completed her lifelong goal, her first cross country title isn't her most memorable state championship win.

That came on May 30, 2016.

Saenz, a sophomore at the time, won her first state championship in the 1600-meter run that day, just hours before a day of celebration transformed to a time of grief.

Later that evening, Samthana's older sister Saren, died at 22-years-old.

"Ever since she passed it's been hard on my family and everything, but really I run for her," Saenz said. "Ever since then I just knew she was giving me all her strength during the race because I felt it in me.

"So I just run for her."

Saenz, now 18, wasn't supposed to get the chance to meet her sister. Saren was born with both mental and physical handicaps that made it that she couldn't speak or walk, and the doctors expected she wouldn't survive the birth.

Instead, she battled for 22 years.

"We knew she wasn't supposed to make it past her birth, that's what the doctor said but everybody was just like, 'No'," Saenz said. "And we ended up getting 22 years with her, so we are forever grateful."

That's why on Saturday, and everyday, Saenz runs for her older sister and it appears she will be doing so for the foreseeable future. Saenz's career running cross country as a Yellowjacket has come to a close, but she still has Foot Locker Nationals in Wisconsin later this month.

If she does well enough at that, she will qualify for AAU Nationals a few months later in San Diego before her track and field season begins in the spring.

Saenz repeated as the 1600-meter champion last season and nearly added a 3200-meter title to her resume, but some tired legs after running what's sometimes referred to as the "iron man" - the 800, 1600, 3200 and 800 meter relay -- finished just 2.17 seconds behind the eventual state champion.

Saenz finished in the top eight in all events to earn all-state honors in four events.

Her natural talent, coupled with her ability to be successful whether it's a track or a course or warm or cold is only part of the reason she is being recruited by a handful of colleges.

Saenz said she wanted to focus on her goal of a cross country title, but now that she has that, she will start to narrow down her choices. Two of the top options she mentioned were Michigan State and Grand Valley State, and she has offers to run both cross country and track from both schools.

Saenz finished all-state in all four years; moving from 22nd as a freshman, to sixth as a sophomore, third as a junior and finally first as a senior. So what did the four year journey full of trials and tribulations teach Concord's latest state champion?

"That pain is temporary and pride is forever," Saenz said.