Kenai Central's Alee Rowley approaches the finish line to take third place in the Kenai Peninsula Borough Cross Country Championships earlier this month.
Photo by M. Scott Moon
Kenai Central senior Alee Rowley would like to thank all her coaches and teachers for what they've done for her over the years, but Rowley has a special thank you reserved for former Kenai cross country assistant Kim Foley.
On Rowley's first day at Kenai Central High School, Foley was teaching Rowley in health class, recognized her as a middle-school runner, and asked her, "You're running cross country, right?"
Rowley actually had no intention of running cross country. She had run through her childhood in races against a friend, and that carried into middle school cross country in sixth, seventh and eighth grades.
"When I was running in middle school, I was just running to have fun," Rowley said. "I thought high school was for really serious runners who wanted to run in college. I didn't know slow people could run in high school, too."
All that thinking went out the window when Foley put Rowley on the spot in that health class.
"I was too embarrassed to tell her no," Rowley said.
It turned out Rowley was not as slow as she thought. It also turned out Rowley is indeed a serious runner who wants to run in college.
"Physically, she was a pretty small kid coming into ninth grade," former Kenai Central cross country coach Liz Burck said. "She was very quiet. She just stayed in the background and worked and worked."
Work ethic became Rowley's trademark in school and athletics.
Rowley trained all summer before her sophomore year and finished 11th in the Class 4A race at the Region III meet to help the Kenai girls finish second and earn a berth to state.
She also ran a leg on the 3,600-meter relay team that finished runner-up at the Region III track and field meet that year.
Rowley said she let down on her training coming into her junior year and it cost her.
"You have to keep running hard to stay fast," Rowley said. "I was barely as fast as I was as a sophomore."
Rowley still finished 16th in the region race to help the Kardinals to a second-place team finish, again sending the team to state.
"My senior year, I decided I wanted to run in college and that I needed to make up for my junior year," Rowley said. "I trained all summer."
The training paid off as Rowley has been one of the top runners in the region all year. Saturday, she finished second in the Class 4A Region III race at Kodiak to qualify as an individual for the state meet at Tsalteshi Trails on Saturday.
Paul Gutzler, in his first year as the Kenai Central cross country coach, said Rowley has been a joy to work with.
"My initial impression of her was that she is someone who definitely had goals for her year and knew exactly what she wanted to do," Gutzler said. "She worked really hard all summer.
"She finishes every practice with extra repeats. She set the tone for the whole team with respect to work ethic."
Rowley also has used that work ethic to achieve a 4.0 grade point average.
"I've kept it for three years, and I can't let it go," Rowley said of the 4.0. "My main thing is school."
Joan Rowley, Alee's mother, said her and her husband, David, always pushed Alee in the classroom.
"We've always made sure Alee did what she needed to do, because I don't believe I was pushed hard enough as a kid," Joan said. "She has blown us away in regard to grades. I think she has had straight 4.0s since the fourth grade."
Rowley, who would like to major in business and math in college, has been involved in other activities at Kenai Central.
She is a member of the National Honors Society and joined Interact, a community service group, this year. She also has been involved in band and in SkillsUSA, in which students compete in occupational and leadership skills.
This year, after deciding it would be fun to plan graduation, Rowley ran for and was elected senior class president.
"I was going to go for secretary, but then I decided I'd rather tell people what to do," Rowley said.
Burck, who taught Rowley biology, said Rowley is no longer content to sit in the background.
"This year at school she has kind of come out of her shell a little bit," Burck said. "She's done some things in classrooms, and taken some roles in assemblies, that surprised me and some other teachers.
"She's stepped out of her comfort zone. It's really fun to see her do those things."
As if school and athletics are not enough, Rowley also works a steady job. This summer, she worked for the Youth Restoration Corps and on a dock before landing a job with Papa Murphy's at the end of the summer. Even during cross country, she is working two or three days a week for three or four hours at a time.
"I'm amazed at how mature she is, and how she handles responsibility," Gutzler said. "She planned homecoming, had to prepare for regions, keeps a 4.0 and has a job."
Rowley also is working with Burck on finding a school that will fit her academic and athletic goals.
"She just takes on a whole lot of stuff before I even realize it's happening," Joan said. "She likes to be under pressure and to have a whole lot of stuff going on at the same time."
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