DON KETCHUM is a native of Phoenix. He was a sportswriter for The Arizona Republic/The Phoenix Gazette for nearly four decades. He covered high school sports on several occasions as well as the Arizona Diamondbacks, Arizona Cardinals and Arizona State sports. From 2008-14, he was a staff writer for, the web site of the Arizona Interscholastic Association.

Friday, August 10, 2018

Increased maturity should help Gator runner Innes

Helen Innes just started her senior year at Xavier Prep, and she is going to do everything she can to make it the most memorable of her four years.

She follows a path that successfully blends strong academics with ever-improving work as a runner for Xavier’s cross-country team. She also runs on the track team and is the editor-in-chief of the school’s newspaper/online production, the Xpress.

The Gator runners have been practicing in the mornings before school at approximately 5:30 a.m. to escape the heat. The team returns a competitive group of runners, including Innes, as well as a number of promising freshmen who have been trying out.

Innes has enjoyed working with the younger runners because it wasn’t so long ago that she was one of them herself.

“Getting up at around 4:30 or so to get here on time – that says a lot about them,’’ she said.

“I was thinking about how time here has gone so fast. Two girls who were seniors when I was a freshman – Shannan Higgins and Jane Miller – worked out with us and it kind of hit me. They helped me a lot then, so I try to do the same now with the younger girls.’’

Her advice to the freshmen: “High school is what you make of it. When I was a freshman, I was involved with cross country and track, and with the newspaper when I took a class as a sophomore. It’s a matter of putting yourself out there, trying to take advantage of new opportunities. You have to be self-motivated a lot of the time, because there usually is no one to tell you to do your homework.’’

Xavier senior Helen Innes is ready to run like the wind  (Photo by Don Ketchum).
Her work with the Xpress doesn’t necessarily involve assigning stories as much as it is give and take with writers during brainstorming sessions. Video and podcasts also are becoming a part of the mix.

“There are so many aspects to it. They’re all very interesting,’’ she said.

She plans to continue to run and perhaps write for the school newspaper in college – she is leaning toward Claremont McKenna in the Los Angeles area and is interested in pursuing a degree in international relations.

“I think I’ll be ready,’’ she said.

She has run in California before – at a couple of midseason events. She also ran in Oregon in last year’s George Fox Invitational.  She was 23rd among several hundred runners there. She also got an opportunity to reconnect with family that lives in the area.

“My parents have been very supportive,’’ she said. “They come out to all the meets. They are always there.’’

Xavier’s first meet will come on Sept.1 in the Peaks Invitational at Flagstaff’s Buffalo Park. Innes believes she is ready to blossom.

“I think I am a lot smarter than before, paying attention to some of the little things that can help you,’’ she said. “You have to realize if you haven’t been getting enough sleep, particularly the night before a meet. You have to be smarter about training.’’

The season is drawing closer, but cooler weather is not ready to do so yet. Part of Innes’ process each night before the early practices involves packing her breakfast and lunch, shower bag and school uniform and making sure her homework has been completed.

Running also allows the athletes to eat a lot of pasta and protein.

Sugar, like what is in desserts? Not so much.

“Once in awhile, you have a cookie. It keeps you sane,’’ Innes said, laughing. “We have talked about that in the past in the van. It is something to look forward to at the end of the race as a treat.’’

Dave Van Sickle is Innes’ coach in cross country and track. He is happy to have her return for one more season.

“She has always been pretty steady, even from the beginning as a freshman,’’ he said.

Innes is changing her ways. She is proud to have gained maturity and that can make a big difference in the classroom (a 4.0 weighted grade-point average) and on the race course.

“As a freshman, I wasn’t worried too much about anything (results), other than trying to survive,’’ she said. “As a sophomore and again as a junior, I was usually in the middle of the pack.

“I was sort of scared to make a move. I would get intimidated. But I am a senior now and I am not scared anymore. I speak in front of a writing class.

”I am ready to break out and lead the pack, run my own race. Some of your strategy depends on the course, but I want to start faster and make the big push the last mile and a half (out of 3 miles).’’

She picked up the trophy that Xavier earned as last year’s state runner-up and was ready to pose for a photo.

A school staff person walked by, stopped and said, “Oh, wow, is that yours?’’ Innes said no, it was the result of a team effort.

“This year, if I get one of these things (as an individual winner or top finisher at state), it will be a great day,’’ Innes said.

A great day, indeed.

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