Wantage girl running qualifies for Junior Olympics
WANTAGE — Calissa "Cali" Gaechter may be a small-town girl, but she is no small-time athlete.
Gaechter, 12, of Wantage. a seventh-grader at Sussex Middle School, has completed two fall cross-county seasons and a spring-track season, and already has qualified as a Junior Olympic runner.
It all started when her cross-country coach Kaleigh Ralph encouraged her to run a second season for Sussex Middle School this year. Ralph’s second year working at SMS as the cross country coach, she said she recognized talent in Gaechter early.
“From the first couple of practices, Cali’s athletic ability and personality stood out,” Ralph said.
Gaechter was awarded the SMS Most Valuable Player Award last year.
Since the school is not involved with the Junior Olympics, Ralph spoke with Robert DeVasto, the 6-7th grade cross country and track and field coach at Reverend George A. Brown Memorial School in Sparta, which involves its athletes, about making Gaechter a part of it.
“I asked Cali if she would be interested, and she was thrilled,” Ralph said. “She is a wonderful addition to the cross country Junior Olympic team.”
Gaechter said getting involved with running was an accident.
“My brother’s soccer team was supposed to run a 5K at Woodbourne Park in 2009," she said. "I pleaded with my mom to let me run it. She eventually did, and I ended up not only winning the race for my age group, but also setting the record.”
After the cross-country season ended, Gaechter joined the Rev. Brown team to race in the N.J. Association Junior Olympics Cross Country meet. At this level, only the top six best times in track and top 30 cross-country times can race at the Region 2 Junior Olympics meets.
Gaechter placed 14th at the Region 2 Junior Olympic cross-country championship 3K race with a time of 13:18.50. Although Gaechter qualified for the cross-country National Junior Olympic meet in San Antonio, Texas, she decided with her family not to attend the meet.
“Without Coach Ralph, I probably wouldn’t have ever done the Junior Olympic races at all,” Gaechter said. “She’s the one who told me I should definitely do it.”
Gaechter plans to continue running with their schools in upcoming seasons and will try to qualify again for the N.J. Junior Olympics.
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