Three years ago, Gillian Snyder would not have seen herself as a cross country runner.
So there’s no way she could have seen herself getting up before dawn to go for a run.
But the Fort Vancouver senior has come a long way since then, and she’s helped bring the Trappers’ cross country program with her.
“I played soccer my freshman year, and then I was convinced my sophomore year to come out for cross country,” Snyder said. “It was Emily Phelps and Anna Harrison’s last year of running, and they are two super good runners. I was told that if I came out for cross country, we could possibly make it to state. And I really wanted to be part of that.
“So I ran cross country and we did make it to state. That was super exciting to be part of that, so I was glad I switched over.”
Snyder has kept running ever since, and she didn’t stop when a pandemic put her senior season at Fort in jeopardy.
During the summer as one of two seniors in the program, Snyder spearheaded efforts to organize offseason running groups, even during periods when coaches could not work with athletes.
“With all of the uncertainty surrounding the season, it was Gillian who kept the team together,” Fort coach Owen Frasier said. “The captain of this year’s squad, Gillian’s pride in the program and drive to lead the young team cannot be overstated.”
Snyder humbly says she just played a role in a team effort at Fort. That idea was instilled in her by runners like Phelps and Harrison, both of whom are now competing at the college level.
“They made a really big impact on Fort’s cross country team, and it was really sad when they left,” Snyder said of her former teammates. “So then it was me and Dhamar (Campos), who was a senior last year, we tried to get people coming out for cross country to keep the Fort cross country tradition going. And it worked. There are still a good amount of people out running.”
That recruitment continued during the pandemic when high school sports were put on hold.
“With cross country, we knew that it would be easy to social distance, so we kept thinking that we’d most likely have a season,” Snyder said. “We were telling people that this could be your only chance to get out and do a sport. And there were a lot of people who were not doing well with their mental health because they couldn’t see people. We told them that if you run, we have a really fun team.”
After the school year began in remote learning, Fort’s workouts were broken into groups that ran either in the morning or afternoon.
Snyder and some of her more-dedicated teammates took the morning sessions, which in the winter would start in the cold and darkness at 6:45 a.m.
“I never stopped being impressed with this group of young ladies,” Fort athletic director James Ensley said. “I would show up to school – and I like to get here early – and they were already out there running.”
Snyder said the pre-dawn workouts were tough at first, but the Trappers soon made it part of their routine.
“Every morning was really cold,” Snyder said. “We’d all be wearing sweats and sweatshirts. It was hard waking up that early the first couple of times, but we got used it. Once you got up and got your run in, it was nice just to be able to relax for the rest of the day.”
It also prepared them for an unusual cross country season.
“My first reaction was that it was going to be very cold,” Snyder said when hearing that cross country would be held in February and March. “Usually when you run cross country, it’s pretty hot outside. So this season was going to be a big change in weather. But I was just really happy that we were going to be able to have a season, especially being a senior.”
After a running a preseason jamboree last weekend, the Trappers will open their regular season on Thursday against Hockinson and Columbia River.
“They told us that we need to wear layers because it could snow,” Snyder said. “That’s something I’ve never experienced before – running a cross country meet in snow.”
It’s been a year of a lot firsts. But the 4.0 student is thankful she had her teammates to get her through it.
“During the winter break we took a break from workouts,” Snyder said. “And not seeing (my teammates) for two weeks felt really weird. I missed seeing them every day and talking to them and laughing. I really missed that connection.”
Tim Martinez is the assistant sports editor/prep coordinator for The Columbian. He can be reached at (360) 735-4538, firstname.lastname@example.org or follow his Twitter handle @360TMart.