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Draper Journal

11-year-old runner wins nationals

Feb 04, 2019 10:58AM ● By Catherine Garrett

Draper’s McKay Wells won the 11–12-year-old national championship at the USATF Cross Country National Championships in Reno, Nev. Dec. 8. (Photo courtesy Jason Wells)

By Catherine Garrett | [email protected]

Draper’s McKay Wells, 11, finished first at the USATF Cross Country National Championships in Reno, Nev. Dec. 8, crossing the finish line ahead of 358 other runners in the 11-12 age division.

It was McKay Wells’ fifth appearance at nationals, having placed in the top four each year since he was 7. He has earned six All-American honors — and, therefore, hats that come with the recognition — among more than 50 medals in cross country and track events over the past few years.

“You never know who’s going to show up at nationals so you have to be on your toes all the time,” McKay’s father Jason said. “We know a lot of the other competitors and we felt like we would have been happy with a top five finish. But, it was snowy and muddy so that was to McKay’s advantage over some top runners from California. He had a dominant lead, passing these guys within the first kilometer of the 3K race.”

McKay, son of Jason and Stacy Wells of Draper, has been running since he was 5 years old. His dad said he knew McKay could run fast so he entered the two of them in the Santa Clara (UT) Swiss Days 5K “to see if he could run that far.” “I’m thinking, ‘Hey, come run this with me,’ and then I’m trying to make sure he doesn’t get trampled, but then he just goes and takes off and left me in the dust,” Jason Wells said. McKay ended up finishing first in his age group and 28th overall while running a 21:41, which turned out to be under seven minutes a mile, beating his dad’s personal record. “I couldn’t believe it,” he said. “I was just thinking, ‘Holy smokes, McKay, you are amazing!’ I guess all that marathon and Ironman training I had done was no match for his raw talent.”

McKay’s mother Stacy said she received a call from his school shortly after the 5K race asking about their “fast African-American kid” and put them in touch with the coach of a local youth cross-country team who invited McKay to the state USATF Cross Country championships the very next week. McKay ended up winning the 8-and-under state championship — as a 6-year-old — but wasn’t old enough to compete at nationals that year.

Later that spring, McKay began running with Quickfeet Track Club, under the coaching of Snow Canyon High School coach Justin Redfearn. “We tried the 100, 200, 400, 800 and 1500 meters and the longer the distance the higher he placed,” Stacy said. “He was a natural distance runner.”

At the age of 7, he placed third at the USATF Junior Olympics in the 1500 meters, and the next year he won the Hersheys National Championships in the same event.

When McKay’s family moved from the St. George area to Draper three years ago, there were no youth running programs until former BYU runner — and Draper resident — Nan Kennard started Race Cats. The program is expanding with dozens of teams and hundreds of runners throughout the state. This past year, 68 Race Cats runners qualified for nationals. “She has done an amazing job building a program that has grown throughout the Wasatch Front,” Stacy Wells said. “Nan makes running fun for these kids and the program she is building is super impressive,” Jason Wells said. “She’s done an amazing job building and growing a youth running pipeline for Utah.”

McKay also plays basketball and soccer year-round, with his parents continuing to encourage him to participate in cross country and track. Jason Wells called his son “a gamer” who is naturally fast. “McKay likes to have fun, so you’ll often find him running back a bit to talk with his friends while he’s running,” Stacy Wells said. “However, when he gets into a race, he goes all out. During a 1500-meter race he wasn’t feeling well and actually vomited on his third lap. Regardless, he finished with a PR.”

McKay said, “I don’t really like to run that much, I just like to win.”

He plans on defending his national championship in the winter and continuing to run as his schedule allows. “We just kind of go at his pace and let him go and do,” Jason Wells said. So, for now, the “fun-loving, lean kid” will keep on running.