Jessica Mildes now owns a national record, and to do it she had to scrap and hang tough in a race with some of the nation’s best collegiate distance runners from big-time schools a long way from her home in Chattaroy and the Community Colleges of Spokane.
But you know what’s way impressive?
“At cross country camp, we do an eating contest – kind of a ‘Fear Factor’ thing,” reported her coach, Sean McLachlan, “and she took down a tube of wasabi in like six seconds.
“She’s competitive. She doesn’t like to lose and she likes a challenge.”
And on her own terms.
Her latest challenge took her to the Mt. SAC Relays in Walnut, Calif., where the sophomore ran the fastest women’s 10,000 meters in junior college history – surviving a case of adrenalized anxiety that threatened to short-circuit her chances before the race was half over.
“She freaked out a little and got stuck with the top four for a while,” McLachlan said. “She ran 10:47 for the first two miles. In high school, she was 30 seconds from being able to run 10:47 even once.”
Never mind back-to-back-to-back.
Predictably in a 25-lap slog, the adrenaline ran out. Mildes struggled to find her level, eventually hooking up with a competitor to share the work and keep their splits steady.
“Then I got to the last lap and Sean said I needed to run it in 86 (seconds),” she recalled, “and I thought, ‘Oh, I can do that.’ That was a really cool moment for me – like giving me one more chance.”
She crossed the finish line in 34 minutes, 29.36 seconds, knocking more than four seconds off the national JC record set in 2010 by Rose Tanui of Central Arizona. Ahead of her, Arizona’s Elvin Kibet and William and Mary’s Emily Stites ran the second and third-fastest NCAA Division I times of the spring; a few steps behind her, Tara Richardson of Western State ran the swiftest 10K in the Division II ranks.
It’s not completely new territory for a Sasquatch runner. Sixteen years almost to the day on the same track, Erika Colin set a JC record of 35:20.88 – the school record until Mildes broke it.
Earlier this spring, she also took down one of the two oldest records in CCS and NWAACC history, Joanne Lahti’s 5K mark dating back to 1980. She’s barely a second off Lahti’s 1,500 record, too.
All of this from a runner McLachlan said he “had no reason to think would be within our reach.”
When in fact that’s exactly why the Sasquatch got her.
Mildes did her high school running at Riverside, where she was a regular scorer at state meets for the Rams, though she couldn’t crack the 1A dominance of west sider Maddie Meyers. Still, her times were enough to elicit Division I interest from near (Eastern Washington) and far.
But even with an attractive athletic and academic aid package – Mildes is a 4.0 student – even near was too far.
“I’m just really tight with my family and wanted to live at home,” said Mildes, who was home schooled. “My sister (Rebecca) is one of my best friends, and I wanted to be able to see them on a daily basis, and I wouldn’t have been able to moving to Cheney.
“I’m a homebody, that’s for sure.”
Even after Mildes reached out to CCS, McLachlan still had his doubts. She didn’t commit until June, and he remembers her “talking to her mom the whole time” in their face-to-face visit.
“We’ve drawn her out slowly,” he said, “but that’s just her personality.”
Maybe she just saves her breaking away for the track. Mildes won the NWAACC cross country title by 40 seconds her freshman year, burying the field with a full sprint a mile-and-a-half into the race. But then she turned up with a stress fracture moving into the winter – she’d run her last season of high school track with one, too – so McLachlan moved a significant amount of her training to the swimming pool and stationary bike. The results were so good that cross training has remained in the recipe.
“She has the ability to just push herself constantly in everything she does and she’d probably run herself into the ground,” he said. “But it’s also added another dimension. The biking has changed her stride – she’s much more powerful.”
And maybe ready to stretch out a little. Next year she’ll run at Gonzaga University, where her swift 10K is already 15 seconds under the school record. Yes, it’s a couple miles closer than the Falls, but she’s moving into town nearer to campus.
Of course, it doesn’t hurt that her sister is coming to run for CCS next year. You can be a homebody in more places than one.