By Keith Dunlap
Special for Second Half
While the best part of a cross country or track race is the sprint to the finish line, it was actually having the race be over that excited Audrey DaDamio the most.
Growing up, DaDamio loved watching older sister Rachel, who finished second at the 2014 Lower Peninsula Division 1 Cross Country Final and won the 1,600 meters at the LPD1 Track & Field Finals the following spring. But Audrey enjoyed a postrace ritual with Rachel even more.
Once a race was over, Audrey DaDamio would join her older sister on the track or at the end of the cross country course and do a cool-down run with her, the only time the two could run together at meets since they were six years apart.
“I was such in awe watching her race,” DaDamio said.
Fast forward a few years, and more and more race fans are finding themselves in awe of watching Audrey DaDamio run.
Now a junior in high school and member of Birmingham Seaholm’s cross country team, DaDamio should be on the short list of contenders at this year’s Division 1 meet Nov. 2 at Michigan International Speedway.
DaDamio is off to a terrific start to this season. She won the first Oakland Activities Association Red jamboree in September in a time of 18:02.16. This past Saturday, she was the individual champion at the Oakland County meet held at Kensington Metro Park, besting a competitive field in a time of 18:09.3.
DaDamio also finished fifth in the “elite” race at the prestigious Spartan Invite at Michigan State University and has built on a performance that exceeded her expectations at last year’s LPD1 Final at MIS, where she finished 11th.
“My goal was to be top 20, so coming away 11th, I was really excited about that,” DaDamio said. “It definitely made my goals for this season a lot higher.”
DaDamio said she started running track in fifth grade, mainly because she was inspired by Rachel’s accomplishments.
“My goal was to be how she is,” DaDamio said of Rachel, who went on to run cross country and track at Notre Dame.
Before the MHSAA spring track season in March, DaDamio competed at an indoor national track event in New York, where she finished 15th.
She then finished fifth at the Division 1 Track Finals in the 3,200-meter run and placed seventh in the 1,600-meter run to set the stage for this cross country season.
Seaholm head coach Craig McCardell said a big reason for DaDamio’s success is how well she knows her body and how to train.
“She intuitively knows when she can train hard and when she knows her body needs to recover,” McCardell said. “From this, she has avoided interruption in her training caused by injuries.”
DaDamio didn’t run in the second OAA Red jamboree because of soreness after running in a meet a couple of days prior. Instead, she rested up for her winning performance at the county meet and has her eyes set on the third league Jamboree, the Regional meet, and of course, the Finals.
DaDamio said she has a goal of finishing among the top three in Division 1, and hopes learning some technical aspects of the course the last two years will pay dividends in November.
“Last year was kind of my first taste of being in a lead pack and being with girls who I know are very fast,” she said. “You have to put yourself into a position to be successful. Last year at states, by the two-mile mark, I wanted to be in the chase pack. That’s what I did, and it worked out. Hopefully this year, it will be kind of the same thing. That second mile, it’s going to be really hard. But I just have to stay mentally in the race.”
PHOTO: Birmingham Seaholm’s Audrey DaDamio races to an 11th-place finish during last season’s Lower Peninsula Division 1 Final at Michigan International Speedway. (Photo courtesy of Seaholm cross country.)
GRANDVILLE – Almost a year ago, Allie Arnsman didn’t know whether she would ever be able to run competitively again.
Over the last week, the Grandville senior was named Ms. Cross Country by the Michigan Interscholastic Track Coaches Association while also establishing a school record.
Arnsman suffered a broken right foot during last year’s cross country season that required surgery.
“They told me there was a small possibility of even being able to run again,” Arnsman said. “It was very scary going into the surgery thinking that there was a 90-percent chance that I wouldn’t be able to run, but I had the doctors and the physical therapists that were able to get me back.”
Arnsman sustained the injury during the third meet of her junior season when she stepped in a hole on the course.
Originally, doctors didn’t think the injury was serious.
“They kept telling us it was just a sprain, and after six weeks it would be healed,” said Arnsman, who wore a boot on her right foot.
Arnsman returned to run in the final three races of last year, and finished 17th overall in the Lower Peninsula Division 1 Final.
However, she still felt uncertain that her foot was completely healed.
“It was really painful when I ran and I thought something was still wrong, but I wanted to finish out my junior year and I was grateful that I did,” Arnsman said. “Right after the state meet I had an MRI, and it revealed that it was broken.”
Arnsman missed the track & field season due to her recovery after surgery. She began running again in late spring and then returned in August for her senior year.
“It was a tough injury for her to overcome, but she came back and we started talking about goals for the season,” Grandville girls cross country coach Rachael Steil said. “I told her that I thought she had the potential to finish in the top five (at the Finals) and we joked about her winning.
“She had so much untapped potential, and she did so well on little mileage. She doesn’t realize how talented she is, but with the hard work she put in I felt like it was going to be a really good season.”
Arnsman ran well throughout the season and continued to drop her times.
At the Finals, she exceeded her own expectations by placing runner-up in Division 1 behind West Ottawa’s Helen Sachs.
Arnsman finished with a time of 17 minutes, 43 seconds at Michigan International Speedway.
“I was just trying to go out with the front pack, and I wanted to stick up close and then close in in the last mile,” she said. “It was tough to catch her because she went out very fast, and I wasn't used to that pace. The weather conditions weren't great, and I just couldn't get up there.”
Still, Arnsman was ecstatic about her finish.
“I was really excited,” she said. “Coming into the season I did not think I could even be top three and I was hoping for a top 15, so placing second was amazing. It was a dream.”
Arnsman got more good news after the race as she was the top senior in all divisions and was named Ms. Cross Country.
“When they pulled me aside in the room I had the biggest smile on my face,” Arnsman said. “I knew going in that it was a possibility, but of course I didn't know right away. I was so excited.”
A week later, Arnsman ran in the MITCA Meet of Champions and became the fastest girl in Grandville school history when she finished second with a time of 17 minutes flat.
The previous record of 17:20 was set by Madison Troy in 2015.
“She was drastically improving through the season, and I knew the possibilities were endless for her,” Steil said. “She has great form, and she’s strong from all the weight training she did. She put all the little pieces together, and they came together at the right time.”
Arnsman will run for Grand Valley State next year, but it’s been a journey that was somewhat unexpected after growing up as an accomplished soccer player.
She stopped playing soccer after her sophomore year to focus on running.
“I grew up in soccer, so it was scary going into a new sport and giving up something that I loved,” Arnsman said. “It was a different sport and a whole new environment that I wasn’t used to, but I’m grateful that I was able to have the success I did. ... I never thought about running in college. I thought I would be playing college soccer.”
Arnsman, who ended her cross country career as a three-time Finals qualifier, will run indoor track & field this winter before running outdoor in the spring with her team.
Dean Holzwarth has covered primarily high school sports for Grand Rapids-based WOOD-TV for five years after serving at the Grand Rapids Press and MLive for 16 years along with shorter stints at the Ionia Sentinel and WZZM. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org with story ideas for Allegan, Kent and Ottawa counties.
PHOTOS (Top) Grandville’s Allie Arnsman runs toward the finish at the Lower Peninsula Division 1 Cross Country Final on Nov. 5. (Middle) Arnsman, bottom row center, takes her place on the medal stand next to Holland West Ottawa champion Helen Sachs, far right. (Click for more from RunMichigan.com.)