Alexa Efraimson knew something was going on around Camas.
There was a photo shoot with Gatorade products a day or two ago. She noticed camera crews on campus. There were familiar faces on the scene Thursday morning at school.
Still, she was surprised when the American record holder in the 5,000 meters walked into her classroom. Along with a dozen or so other people and one big trophy.
Efraimson, a junior from Camas, was named the Gatorade national girls cross country runner of the year. Her face turned bright red and her smile grew big as Molly Huddle presented her with the trophy just before 8 a.m.
“I started to shake a little bit. I started to tear up,” Efraimson said. “I couldn’t believe all this was happening.”
That was just the start of a crazy day for Efraimson. A press conference. More photo shoots. A run with Huddle was scheduled. As was a celebratory dinner with family and friends.
“I’m so humbled by this award, honestly,” Efraimson said. “And I am so excited. I didn’t know it would be this big at all.”
Her parents, Dan and Chantel, were told a week ago so they could invite supporters to the dinner. They were asked not to say anything to Alexa.
Others were in on the secret, too. Gatorade officials contacted the school days ago in order to set up the surprise.
Dave Johnson, a teacher in Efraimson’s marketing class, explained to the students that the video crew inside the classroom was there to record students for a presentation to the school board.
“With social media, you don’t want to say a word to anybody,” Johnson said. “You have to be careful.”
Efraimson was giving her presentation when Huddle and the rest walked into the classroom. Efraimson recognized Huddle right away.
“I have never met her but she is an amazing runner,” Efraimson said. “Being able to hang out with her today is going to be so cool.”
A press conference was held about 40 minutes after the surprise.
Aminah Charles of Gatorade noted that of the 215,000 high school girls who run cross country in the United States, Efraimson is No. 1.
Chad Konecky, the national director of USA Today’s high school sports coverage, noted the many well known athletes who have earned state athlete of the year recognition but not the national honor. He turned to nine-time All-American Huddle and looked at the trophy and said: “Molly Huddle doesn’t have one of these at home.”
Efraimson’s high school coaches also spoke.
“It’s no secret she is incredibly blessed with talent, drive and ambition,” Camas cross country coach Laurie Porter said.
Porter also wanted it to be known that Efraimson is a fantastic teammate. In fact, girls from the cross country team were present at the press conference and had their pictures taken with the trophy and Efraimson.
Alisa Wise, the track and field coach at Camas, told a story of when Efraimson finished second at the state meet as a freshman only after Efraimson had been “flat-tired” — her shoe was stepped on.
When others tried to tell Efraimson that was the reason she lost, Efraimson would have none of it.
“Alexa has never been one to look for excuses,” Wise said, noting it was then she knew Efraimson was a special talent.
Huddle stepped to the microphone next, saying she was in awe of Efraimson's accomplishments.
Efraimson is the first athlete from a Clark County high school to be selected Gatorade’s national athlete of the year in any sport. She is the second female athlete from Washington to be a national athlete of the year. Susan Anderson of Mount Baker was the national girls basketball player of the year in 1986.
In November, Efraimson broke the state-meet course record in winning her second consecutive Washington high school state cross country title for Class 4A.
In December, she broke the course record by 37 seconds in winning the Nike Cross Nationals in Portland, beating two-time champion Sarah Baxter, the 2012 Gatorade national girls cross country runner of the year.
She also won the Nike Pre-Nationals, the Nike BorderClash and the Bill Dellinger Invitational, and finished first at the NXN Northwest Regional championships.
The awards season is not over yet for Efraimson.
As one of the national athletes of the year in 11 sports, Efraimson will be going to Hollywood in July to attend the ESPY’s. She will be a finalist for the national high school athlete of the year.
“Oh my gosh, I didn’t even know about that,” Efraimson said.
Efraimson keeps winning, and the running community is still full of surprises.