Christina Ryzhov wasn’t happy after her first running race at four years old.
Entered in the 3-8 age division, Ryzhov took fourth place in the mile-long run. They handed out medals to the top three.
Ryzhov cried and her dad, Victor, offered her some words of advice.
“She’s very competitive,” Victor Ryzhov said. “I told her ‘If you want medals, you have to work and train.’ “
Eight years later, Christina, a seventh grader at Clinton Rosette Middle School, has her fair share of medals. In October, Ryzhov won the Illinois Elementary School Association 2A state cross country championship. Her time of 11:21 on the two-mile course was also faster than the winners of the 1A and 3A races, making her the unofficial overall state champion for all middle schoolers.
“I knew she was going to be one of the contenders at least,” Clinton Rosette cross country coach Kevin Beverly said. “Did I have expectations for her to win? Actually to be honest I did think she was capable. I knew she was capable of it because she’s a really exceptional runner and a hard worker.”
Ryzhov’s work ethic started when she was young and she had a couple of family members to look up to as role models. Victor was a former runner and triathlete while her older brother, Misha, who is a senior at DeKalb, runs cross country and plays soccer for the Barbs.
“[Misha] and my dad are probably the reason I started running,” Ryzhov said. “Races they’d always be ahead of me, just jogging around the neighborhood I always tried to run with them.”
Ryzhov, who also plays soccer for Northern Illinois FC, began distancing herself from her fellow runners, running in longer races, including local 5K’s and 10K’s as she got older. She even tagged along with her brother and trained with DeKalb’s high school cross country team over the past two summers.
After Ryzhov finished third in the state meet as a sixth grader, Beverly worked with former coach A.J. Freeman, who is now an assistant at Batavia, to create a better training regimen for her. Part of that included going over to Huntley Middle School for some workouts to run with the faster boys.
“It was different, different people to run with,” Ryzhov said. “During workouts there would be someone that was pretty much as fast with me to run with. It helped me. It got me working a little harder than when I’m running by myself.”
In August at the DeKalb Corn Classic 10K, Ryzhov was the third female finisher and placed 22nd overall, averaging 6:41 miles. At the state meet, she was pushed by another girl for a mile before she pulled away in the second half of the race.
Ryzhov will continue to train during the offseason, saying she’ll go for a run at least four days a week. Indoor soccer will also keep her busy before track season comes in the spring. There she hopes to make it back to the state track meet and place in the 800 and 1,600.
And for someone who has already accomplished so much, as a seventh grader, time is still on Ryzhov’s side.
“The future looks really really bright for this kind of a kid, but also for her teammates,” Beverly said looking forward to next year. “From our top 7 we only had one eighth grader. It really looks promising.”