In an alternate reality, Emma Jenkins would not be the reigning 4A Greater St. Helens League (GSHL) district and Westside Classic regional cross country champion and the league’s top returning runner from last year’s state meet.
The Camas High School senior would instead have been ranging along the right sideline for the girls soccer team, helping the Papermakers win the 2016 state championship.
In middle school, Emma was an outside midfielder for the Washington Timbers Football Club, where she enjoyed getting to run around the field making plays.
She also ran track and cross country as a middle schooler and even won the 2013 GSHL middle school championships as an eighth-grader at Liberty Middle School, but she just was not that into running at that point in her life.
No matter – she couldn’t fight her destiny. Emma’s mom, Jenna (nee Carlson), was twice an All-American in cross country and once in track while running for the University of Oregon from 1991-1996. Emma’s aunts also ran collegiately.
Jenna never pushed either of her daughters, Emma and younger sister, Halle, to become runners. That did not mean she did not hope Emma would eventually come around to running.
“She had to find it out for herself,” Jenna said. “I just wanted her to do what she wanted to do, but I was happy she leaned that way.”
And Emma quickly discovered that she was a lot better at cross country than she ever was at soccer.
She won her very first high school race as a freshman at the Greater St. Helens League Jamboree, was runner-up at districts that year and eventually finished fourth at state to lead Camas to the team title for the fourth time in five years.
“Right away, I noticed that her talent was amazing,” said long-time Camas coach Laurie Porter. “And she was quite the competitor. I’m always looking for invites where our team will be challenged, and it brings out the best in Emma when she goes up against people who challenge her and make her work.”
The next year, Emma ran her career-best 17 minutes, 58.7 seconds, finishing third at the George Fox XC Classic, then won the Westside Classic and finished seventh at state as the Papermakers repeated as state champion.
“League meets don’t offer a lot of competition,” Emma said matter-of-factly. “It’s hard to get into a competitive spirit. Big meets are nerve-wracking, and when I get nervous, I tend to do better. I get more focused, and when the gun goes off, I’m ready to go.”
Last season brought her more individual success. Emma won five races, including districts and regionals, but the Papermakers finished second at state as their No. 3 runner, Emily Wilson, missed most of the season after breaking several toes in a freak accident.
“It was really disappointing,” Emma said. “But it wasn’t that I didn’t think we weren’t good enough. I took it as motivation to do better this coming season.”
To that end, Emma upped her workout regimen this summer, almost doubling her weekly target to 40-45 miles per week to build a stronger base, and she also went to the gym two or three times a week.
“It’s definitely very hard to think, ‘This is a lot of work that I’m doing,’” she said. “I hope it pays off.”
For added motivation, Emma also has Halle, two years younger but already closing in on her on every training run and every meet.
“My sister and I are really close, and I enjoy having her on the team,” Emma said. “But I don’t want her to beat me. That makes me just work harder.”
Halle, like her sister, was not interested in running before entering high school. She was a basketball player growing up, and still considers hoops her number-one sport, but watching Emma run sparked something in Halle.
“I look at what she’s accomplished, and how she had fun with the team, and I got into running,” said Halle, who finished 20th at state as a freshman. “She really pushes me.”
Porter added, “You watch them, and you see they love each other. They’re truly really good friends. Halle has so much potential, like her sister had, and it’s almost as if she doesn’t realize the talent she has.”
Jenna watches her two daughters reprising the roles she and her younger sister, Tara, played as high schoolers at Grants Pass, Oregon, and it brings a smile to her face.
“We were the same way,” Jenna recalled. “I was the older one, and she was on my heels every race, every workout. I said that was not going to happen to me, but now, I’m in the same boat with my daughters.”
Emma follows her mother’s footsteps in other ways as well. She wants to run collegiately and is focusing on West Coast colleges. She already has talked to coaches at Boise State University and Gonzaga University.
Emma currently sports a 3.7 GPA and Jenna was a third-team Academic All-American in 1996.
And, as her mom did 27 years ago, she would love to go out as an individual state champion. To do so, she will face a deep field at Sun Willows Golf Course in Pasco, with 12 of last year’s top 15 finishers, including defending champion Taylor Roe, a Lake Stevens junior, and runner-up Katie Thronson, a Lewis and Clark senior, back to toe the line.
“I know a lot of those girls, and it’s just really nice to have that competition to run against,” Emma said.
She modestly added that her goal is a top-four finish, which would match her freshman result, but could destiny have a different result in mind?
“I’ve seen her really motivated this summer to have a good season,” Porter said. “She’s a good learner, she’s dedicated, and you never see her slacking off – ever. I’m really excited for her.”