What a remarkable run of success it has been for Ana Richter.
Largely unheralded out of high school, the junior from Rocky Mountain College has racked up all-conference accolades and national championship appearances over the past four seasons as a cross country/distance track runner for the Battlin’ Bears.
The former Billings Central athlete and 2010 Skyview graduate will be back on the big stage on Thursday night in Gulf Shores, Ala., while competing in the preliminaries of the 3,000-meter steeplechase at the NAIA outdoor track championships at Mickey Miller Blackwell Stadium.
It will be Richter’s seventh appearance at a national meet — including cross country and indoor track earlier this school year.
No other Rocky woman has laced up her shoes at nationals that many times since the Frontier Conference school revived its cross country and distance track programs beginning eight years ago.
“I feel like I definitely came out of nowhere,” Richter said with a laugh.
In paring at least a half-minute off her cross country and mile times over the years, coach Alan King said Richter has transformed into one of Rocky’s greatest through her combination of talent, willingness to work, competitiveness and determination.
“I just think she enjoys it,” he said of her feats on cross country paths and tracks. “She has a love for it. She loves to get out and run. She loves to experience different types of runs, too.”
That’s why she will be lining up for the steeplechase, where Richter will have to navigate 28 hurdles and seven water jumps over the grueling 3,000 meters.
“I think I like it because it is different,” she said. “I’m actually not that bad at hurdling, and I have a fun time doing it. I think that’s the biggest thing … I really like it.”
Richter has only competed twice in the steeplechase this season.
While opportunities to train and race are limited, she also made the finals at nationals last year and placed 10th.
Her best clocking of 11:27.44 this spring ranks her 24th in the NAIA heading into nationals.
“I want to make it to the finals — and from there run as fast as I can,” Richter said.
The 22-year-old has certainly stepped out of the shadows of a high school career, where her highlights included a 10th-place finish at the state cross country meet as a junior at Central.
As a senior, Richter briefly attended a high school in Texas before transferring back to Skyview, where she wasn’t eligible to compete in track during the spring.
That didn’t deter King, who was looking for recruits to build a distance corps for his relatively new programs at Rocky.
“That’s the beautiful thing about running. It’s not about what you’ve done in the past it’s really the work you’re putting in day in and day out to get you to the next level,” King said. “She’s taken advantage of that, that’s for sure.”
Richter said she has also benefited greatly from having a coach that “inspires us to run more and push harder.”
In addition, “I’ve had really good girls on our team to run with,” she said.
Richter, who usually runs 40 to 50 miles per week and trains year-around, has earned NAIA All-America recognition as a miler in indoor track, and has the highest finish (42nd place) in recent history for a Rocky woman at the national cross country meet.
“I didn’t think I was going to run in college, and I’m really happy that I did because it’s been amazing,” she said.
It hasn’t been easy, though.
The gutsy, 5-foot-3 Richter has dealt with plenty of obstacles — and we’re not just talking about her adventures in the steeplechase.
She has tendinitis in both knees and has had to contend with low blood sugar issues.
However, it was a badly sprained right ankle, initially injured while competing in the steeplechase that caused her to miss nearly all of the outdoor season during her sophomore year.
“I almost didn’t come back to run,” Richter said. “I just had a really bad year running and health-wise.”
She decided to return, and quickly bounced back in cross country during the fall.
“Having a really bad sophomore year motivated me to do better — and so I definitely did better,” Richter said.
Because of the ankle injury, the NAIA also granted her another outdoor season, which she’ll take advantage of in 2015.
Richter, who achieved a 4.0 GPA during spring semester, has already completed her work for a degree in biology and eventually wants to embark on a medical career by enrolling in a physician assistant program.
In the more immediate future, she is planning to study art in Italy with the Rocky art department this coming fall before returning to campus in the spring for a final season of track and graduation.
“I knew she had the talent and that she could do something at the college level,” King said. “I’m a big dreamer. I dream big for myself as a runner. I dream big for my athletes.”
“I think I’ve always had the determination and perseverance, but running has definitely made it stronger,” Richter said. “I’ve become more determined in every aspect of my life.”