A Long Lonely Road

Jenna Hutchins crosses the finish line to win the Foot Locker South Regional
Cross Country Championships last fall.

Hutchins logging miles, earning recognition and taking recruiting calls during pandemic

By Dave Ongie, News Editor

Distance runners are no strangers to isolation.

Day after day, they wake up, put on their shoes and run several miles. They do this rain or shine, most often alone and always driven by a stopwatch that measures their progress.

Johnson City’s Jenna Hutchins is certainly very comfortable with this lifestyle. The rising junior at Science Hill High School has emerged as one of the top distance runners in the country. Midway through her high school career, Hutchins holds 13 school records and also holds the state record for the outdoor mile.

But that doesn’t mean the isolation brought on by the coronavirus pandemic has been easy for Hutchins. Her last taste of competition came at the prestigious Millrose Games in New York City in early February, which happened shortly before COVID-19 wiped out the entire spring outdoor track season.

Hutchins said she missed the camaraderie and competition she has come to enjoy in the springtime.

“It was definitely really sad for me,” she told the News & Neighbor last Thursday.

Hutchins received a boost last week, however, when it was announced she had won the Gatorade Tennessee Girls Track & Field Athlete of the Year award for the second year in a row. With no races to run and no medals to win, the award served as a reminder that all her hard work being done in isolation is paying off.

“It’s really nice to have all your hard work recognized, and it’s really special getting to receive it every time,” said Hutchins, who also won the honor this past year for cross country.

While the pandemic has been hard on Hutchins, the upbeat 16-year-old had no trouble finding some silver linings in the situation. First of all, the shutdown afforded her an opportunity to get a little downtime before she started training for a cross country season she hopes can happen this fall.

More importantly, Hutchins said she’s been able to enjoy more family time.

“Even though we haven’t been able to get out and do as much, it’s been giving us some time to do other things we normally haven’t had time for,” she said.

The nature of her sport has also allowed Hutchins the opportunity to continue improving. While athletes involved in team sports have been sidelined, all Hutchins needed was her shoes, some fresh air and the rolling hills of East Tennessee to get her work in.

“It’s definitely been a challenge, having to keep separated from people, but my training has been able to stay pretty much the same as far as doing the same workouts and same level of difficulty,” she said. “It’s a really good chance to practice hitting your splits and focusing on times. I’ve been excited to get to work on that.”

When the month of June rolled around, Hutchins was finally able to start fielding calls and texts from college coaches. MileSplit.com has Hutchins ranked as the No. 9 prospect in the nation in the class of 2022, so Hutchins has spent a lot of time on the phone.

“I’ve been looking forward to this for a really long time,” Hutchins said. “It’s exciting to get to choose where you want to go and find out more about each school.”

There is plenty of uncertainty ahead for Hutchins. She’s hopeful the fall cross country season can take place, but she wonders whether regional and national competitions will be possible. Hutchins has earned All-American honors the last two years at the Foot Locker Nationals in San Diego, finishing ninth as a freshman and fifth as a sophomore.

“We’ll be very fortunate if we’re able to do that,” she said.

With so much up in the air, Hutchins will continue to keep her feet on the ground, taking nothing for granted and making the most of all the opportunities that come her way.


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