Peabody's Catarina Rocha competed against 39 of the best female high school runners in the country and placed 7th in the Foot Locker Cross Country National Championships Saturday at Balboa Park in San Diego, Calif. Breaking the top 10, gave her All-American status.
"It feels great," Rocha said. "There are 10 girls from each region: West, Midwest, Northeast (which I'm in), and South. It's only my second year running cross country. Freshman year, I [played] varsity soccer."
The course was 3.1 miles and Rocha covered it in just 17:38, an improvement from her performance at last year's national championships -- 18:34 minutes in 31st place.
Her uncle, Fernando Braz, the track coach at Peabody Veterans Memorial High School, noted her performance does give her All-American status and her team (Northeast) finished 2nd overall, just 34 seconds behind the Midwest team.
Saturday was also her 17th birthday.
Foot Locker paid for her family to stay in a hotel, food, flight expenses, and a new wardrobe of Foot Locker running gear, including backpacks, sneakers and uniforms, she said. In the days leading up to the race, Rocha and her roommates from other regions, took part in some planned social events, including scavenger hunts.
Rocha says she'll celebrate now by giving her legs a two-week break -- she's been in constant training since July -- then she'll resume her indoor track season with the rest of the Lady Tanners.
Her training consists of gym workouts, and five- to seven-mile-long runs with a total of 35 miles per week.
"It's a double thrill," said Jose Rocha, Catarina's father and who is also the boys' and girls' cross country coach at PVMHS. "She picked the right time. She finished seventh in the entire country. As a high school senior, I finished 15th in 1982 in Orlando, Fla. I know how hard it is to get there."
"As a father, I'm very proud of what she accomplished," he added.
Coach Rocha noted his daughter actually turned in the best finish for Peabody High -- ever. Lesley Welch finished 8th in 18:20 back in 1979 in the first ever championship race of the series.
"This is so great for Peabody for her to finish so high," Jose Rocha said.
Rocha's mother, Gina, also participated in the same competition. She placed 21st in 1984 at a time of around 18:20. Daily, she runs six miles at 4:30 a.m., and another four miles in the afternoon with her husband.
And the running genes didn't just stop with Catarina.
Her brother Marcello, a seventh-grader at Higgins Middle School, finished 5th in the Northeast Conference Championships in Gloucester, running 1.9 miles in just 9:52 minutes. His sister was also on the lower-key cross country team at Higgins.
"They grew up around it," Gina Rocha told Peabody Patch. "They'd watch races in the stroller. But she really fell in love with the sport strictly on her own. I don't know if there's a genetic component to it."
She added that running is really the type of sport where the runner has to be passionate about it, because there isn't always someone cheering her on, like at a soccer game. It's all about self-motivation.
"I'm very proud of her performance," her mother noted. "Not only did she run the race well, but she put in a lot of dedication in improving from last year. She made All-American; she was even surprised at her focus and level of commitment throughout the season."
You can find the official results from the race here.
Catarina Rocha, who also won the cross country state championship this fall, will be recognized along with the state champion girls' soccer team Thursday during a 10 a.m. press conference with Mayor Michael Bonfanti at City Hall.