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It’s always fun to see somebody compete in a sport and surprise everyone with an outstanding performance. That was the case this year at the West Virginia State Cross Country Championships held last month at Cabell Midland High School in Ona.

I had been hearing a lot about a cross country runner at Nitro High School, Nicole Donato, who was unranked by at the beginning of the season, and, by the time the championships came around, she held the fifth spot.

The reason for Donato not getting any attention at the beginning of the season, was because she is an exchange student from Italy and didn’t begin running until February 2020.

In her first race of the season for the Wildcats, the St. Mary’s XC Festival, Donato came in 23rd with a time of 22:08 and on the same course during the championship for the girls AA, the senior came in fourth with a time of 20:42.

I was on the course watching the race and saw her go from 12th with 600 meters to go, to finding another gear for her impressive fourth place finish.

An interesting note about the race: It was broadcast on Facebook Live by Video Productions and Donato’s family was able watch her performance over the internet.

I caught up with Donato a couple of days after the championship event and had her relive the 3.1-mile race.

“It was a hard race,” she said, “but I really liked it, because I had a chance to see how much I had improved during the season. It was important to me to know if all of the workouts I did during practice were going to pay off. It was one of the most stressful races of the year, because we were constantly together, with a lot of back and forth changing of positions with the runners.”

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Donato was ranked fifth in the state by before the championship.

In Italy, student-athletes don’t compete for their schools; instead, they play for clubs. This being a bit different for her, I wanted to know what it was like representing Nitro in the race.

“I am really happy that I had the chance to run for Nitro. Being involved with the team and making new friends has been the best part of the experience. I think being able to join the Nitro team was one of the best choices I could’ve made here. I am very happy for everything that had happened.”

One of the Nitro cross country coaches overseeing Donato’s development this season as a top-notch competitor was Crystal Legros, who had nothing but praise for the young runner, saying, “It has been an honor to have Nicole as part of our Nitro cross country family and getting to watch her develop into such a great runner. We knew had something special the first time we saw her run.”

Before taking up running, Donato was a volleyball player in Italy.

Next up for the high school running community is track season that will start early next year. Donato made it clear that is on her list of things to do. “Of course, without a doubt, I look forward to joining the track team. I am hoping to run the 800- or the 1,500-meter races. I would love to run the 800 race, which is a lot shorter than cross country, but that’s what I think I will do best at. I’ll let the coaches decide.”

It’s always fun to see a competitor surprise the competition and basically show up and say, “Here I am,” and then go out and do it. That is exactly what Nicole Donato accomplished this season for Nitro. Congrats!

Scott Depot resident Christian Deiss is a student at Hurricane High School.

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