Catarina Rocha didn’t have to use her kick at all this fall, winning race after race well ahead of her competition.
That kick, a distance runner’s best friend, was there when she needed it most.
Rocha turned on the after-burners Saturday at the 34th Foot Locker Cross Country Championships, overcoming two runners in the final 300 meters to finish second in girls national finals held at Balboa Park in San Diego, Calif.
The pride of Peabody cleared the 5K course in 17:29 and her second place medal stand spot is the best ever Foot Locker showing for a girl from Massachusetts.
“It’s exciting. I felt like I ran my best and left it all out there,” Rocha said from San Diego Saturday afternoon.
The tail end of the course features a steep hill, the second incline of the race. Rocha was running fifth coming off the hill and figured she began sprinting around the 3-mile mark.
Though winner Anna Rohrer from Indiana (17:25) was out of reach, Rocha chased down Maria Hauger and Jordyn Colter in a breathtaking finish seen by close to 4,500 people watching a live Webcast put out by Foot Locker.
“I was a little surprised,” said Rocha. “I didn’t think I was going to be able to catch them so that was really exciting. I didn’t expect to be second.”
By finishing second, Rocha earned first-team All-American honors. It was her second straight All-America nod following last year’s seventh place effort.
Almost immediately after the exciting finish, Rocha began receiving congratulations and well-wishes via text message and social media from the Tanner City. Members of the Peabody track team gathered together in the school’s library to watch the race.
“They all supported me throughout this whole thing and I’m so happy to be able to represent them here,” Rocha said. “I couldn’t have done it without everyone’s help.”