By Dave Ongie, News Editor
Every step of the way, the story of Jenna Hutchins’ running career has been one of ascension.
It began here, on the pages of the News & Neighbor, when Jeff Keeling chronicled the story of an elementary school girl who had just fallen in love with running. It continued with multiple middle school state championships and a high school career chock full of so many accomplishments and accolades they won’t all fit into this story.
By the fall of 2020, Hutchins was a cross country state champion for the second time in the span of three years and was in the process of rewriting the record books both at the state level and nationally. On Dec. 11, she recorded the fastest 5K time ever run by a girl under 20 years old on an outdoor track. Ranked the top girls high school runner by MileSplit, Hutchins was heavily recruited and basically had her choice of schools.
Fittingly, the girl who has been on the rise since the day she first fell in love with running chose the mountaintop, both figuratively and literally. Earlier this month, Hutchins announced her decision to attend BYU to continue her athletic career and pursue her college education.
BYU won the NCAA women’s cross country national championship on March 16, putting the Cougars at the pinnacle of the sport. But more importantly for Hutchins was the fact that Provo, Utah – which sits 4,551 feet above sea level – felt like home when she made a visit there with her family over spring break.
“I think the reason I chose BYU more than anything was because I really felt a strong connection with Coach (Diljeet) Taylor and all the members of the team,” Hutchins said. “It just felt like the perfect place for me. I was really comfortable there, and the relationship I was able to build up with everybody was incredibly special.”
The scariest thing about Hutchins’ commitment to BYU for all the athletes who have been trying in vain to catch her during her high school career is the fact the Provo, Utah’s high elevation will only make Hutchins a faster runner. The Science Hill product will spend the next four years training and living at a high altitude, making life easier when she comes down to compete in the more oxygen-rich air found at lower elevations.
Hutchins had a chance to go through a track workout during her trip to Provo back in March, and she said she could feel the burn in her lungs when she ran in the thin mountain air.
“That’s one of the things all of the girls say,” Hutchins said. “The racing doesn’t get any easier, but your times really improve just having all that oxygen.”
Now that Hutchins has ended her recruitment, she’s focused on enjoying the spring track season with her teammates at Science Hill. After missing out on track season last year because of COVID-19, Hutchins finds herself enjoying the simple pleasures of competing this spring.
“I think this year has really put it in perspective how much we missed during the springtime last year,” Hutchins said. “It was just so different not being around many people or having the opportunities to compete. I think it’s made me and all of my coaches and teammates at Science Hill really grateful to be out there competing and able to have fun.”
Although Hutchins is just a junior, she’s also savoring this track season because it will be her last at Science Hill. Hutchins plans to compete in cross country in the fall before graduation early at the end of the fall semester.
Hutchins will be mentored by her strength coach Julie Stackhouse after Christmas break. The experience will give Hutchins the opportunity to shadow Stackhouse and get an idea of what it is like to work in the exercise and wellness field. If all goes well, Hutchins plans to get a degree at BYU that will allow her to work in that field when she graduates from college.
But as a rising star in the track and field world, Hutchins is leaving the door open to the possibility of running professionally and possibly representing her country in the Summer Olympics if her performance allows her to make the U.S. team.
“That’s definitely a long-term goal for me,” Hutchins said. “I’d love to have all those experiences, to be able to run professionally, to possibly be able to qualify for the Olympics.
“I’m excited for the future, but for me, I just love running in general. It’s been a passion of mine since I was 6, and anytime I get a chance to run is fun for me.”