For Katherine Amen, attitude is everything, and with her positive outlook, the Kenai Central High School senior has made the most of her opportunities.
Amen finished 18th at the state cross country championships last weekend, pacing the Kardinals squad to a seventh-place team finish. Amen entered this season with high expectations for herself after a stellar junior year, but found herself falling short of those goals early this season.
While some athletes might have given up on themselves, Amen learned from her experiences to finish the season as one of Region III's top runners.
"At the beginning of the season, I was really frustrated," Amen said after practice last week. "It was like the season started, but I was still on summer vacation.
"I got frustrated with myself -- I wasn't satisfied and expectations were too high."
That's when Amen figured out that attitude was as important as preparation. Amen got in plenty of training all summer, running four or five days a week, mixing in some hiking and some Boys and Girls Club soccer.
But she found that putting pressure on herself to perform was actually weighing her down.
"It doesn't help being upset with yourself. It doesn't make you go faster," Amen said. "There's no point in getting stressed out about it -- even though I do -- but I try to stay relaxed and have fun."
Don't get her wrong, though. Amen is very competitive, something she says runs in her family.
"Sometimes I don't like going to the family Christmas parties," Amen said. "There's 23 grandchildren, and they're all good at something. They're all better than me at one thing or another, so I do running -- no one else does that."
Amen said at a recent holiday gathering, the walk home from church a couple of blocks away turned into a footrace.
Amen's father, Nelson, said that his challenge is just to keep up with his kids, including Amen's seventh-grade brother Timothy and Christopher, now a freshman at Kenai.
"I go out there and do the community races and my goal is not to finish in twice as long as it takes my kids," Nelson said. "Her and I did the triathlon a while back, that was fun. I did the biking, she did the running."
Amen keeps a healthy attitude toward competition, family or otherwise.
"I don't know if I have a typical racing attitude, but I am really competitive," Amen said. "I work hard -- that's really important -- but I don't think the titles are as important to me. I think the most important thing is that I went out there and ran hard and didn't have anything left at the end. Then I know I did the best I could.
"When I'm out running, I don't worry about how the team is doing. Mostly I worry about my individual race. Coach (Liz Burck) is always emphasizing that it's a team sport, but I do better when I focus individually."
And in the sport of cross country, when an individual does well, the team reaps the benefits.
Amen's attitude helped her and the Kardinals run to the borough title and repeat as region champions on their way to the state championships.
"Not only is she an exceptional athlete, her attitude toward everything that she does is so positive and so infectious," Burck said. "It just spreads through everybody else. Her orientation is always toward success.
"Her work ethic is so good, too. She's every-coach's-dream kind of kid. The cool thing is that everyone on the team respects that, respects her leadership ability and never questions it. She never flaunts it. It's such a natural leadership ability."
"She's very motivating -- we all look up to her," teammate Mary Krusen said.
Amen also has had plenty of success in the classroom. She carries a 4.0 grade point average, though she admits that could change pending the next grade she gets in her advanced placement English class.
Amen said her strongest subject areas are math and science.
"I've been really lucky with my teachers. My science teachers have been excellent all four years," Amen said.
"I'm planning to go to college next year. Right now, I'm thinking of engineering, or something along those lines."
Amen said she's not sure where she'd like to go to school next fall, but she wants to continue running and would like to be able to do that in a cooler climate.
Amen's educational experiences go beyond the classroom. She is president if the Interact Club, a branch of the Rotary Club that emphasizes community service.
She's a member of Kenai's National Honor Society, and she's teaching Sunday School at Our Lady of the Angels Church.
Amen also is a member of the Library Commissioner's Board, where she's learned a lot about public service as the group makes plans for library expansion.
"I had no idea how a meeting was run," Amen said. "Just seeing the whole process has been a good learning opportunity."
Amen learned even more about interacting with people this past summer when she joined members of her church on a mission trip to St. Mary's, a Yupik Eskimo village of about 500 people located on the Andreafsky River in the Yukon-Kuskokwim delta.
"I was expecting the people there to be apprehensive about a group of white girls staying in their community," Amen said, "but everyone was so welcoming -- it was exactly the opposite of what I expected."
Certainly, athletics has had a hand in shaping Amen's attitude. She started her freshman year as a member of Kenai's swimming team, but after attending the cross country banquet as Krusen's guest, she decided to give running a try as well.
She was able to compete in both sports as a sophomore before focusing on cross country as a junior.
"That was tough to decide," Amen said. "(Swimmers) Stacey Pault and Jen Stewart kept saying that was the year we were going to have a really strong relay. They put a lot of pressure on me."
Amen gave cross-country skiing a shot last year, another learning experience.
"I thought it'd be just like running on skis," Amen said. "All the boys stand at the bottom of the steepest hill on the course and cheer for the best falls. I got some good cheers."
Amen also played basketball as a freshman and was a member of the Kenai soccer team for two seasons before joining the track team last year -- another tough decision.
That decision worked out as Amen ran the 3,200 meters in the state meet and was a member of Kenai's state record-setting 3,200-meter relay.
Amen will face more tough decisions as she decides which sports will fill out the rest of her prep career.
"I really don't know yet," she said. "I might go swim the rest of the season with the swim team. I played soccer my first two years, and track was so much fun last year. I wish I could do both, but I'd probably be spreading myself too thin."
Whatever she chooses to do, in athletics or in life, Amen's attitude is certain to help her excel.
"Katherine sets goals for herself, and she works really hard to achieve them," said her mother, Sheila. "It's her work ethic I appreciate. I think her dad and I both encourage that, but mostly I think she was born that way."
"I'm excited to see her go on, because she's going to do great things," Burck said. "But I'm sorry to see her go, because she's such a great kid."
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