Westmoreland County Senior Spotlight: Ligonier Valley’s Clara Wallace

Monday, November 20, 2023 | 10:03 AM

In some sports — auto racing in the movies, for example — the old saying is, “If you’re not first, you’re last.”

That statement isn’t true for cross country.

In cross country, an athlete often is competing as much against the course and herself as she is against her opponents.

Out of a vast field of runners at the WPIAL meet, Ligonier Valley’s Clara Wallace finished ninth with a time of 20 minutes, 34 seconds. That was an improvement over last year’s race, when she finished 14th.

Two years in a row, her performance has gotten her to the state level, where she also improved, going from 57th to 29th in a field of 267 runners.

“I wasn’t able to run as much as I would have hoped the summer before the season,” Wallace said. “So I really had to push myself more this year at practice and get my runs in on the weekend.”

Wallace and junior teammate Gabby Palmer were the representatives for Ligonier Valley at the state competition.

A top-10 finish in the WPIAL and an appearance at states landed Wallace in the headlines a few times.

“I’m kind of taken aback that I’ve been getting all this attention for my running,” Wallace said. “It’s kind of weird because I just run fast.”

While running fast, Wallace has made a good deal of memories, so many she can’t even single out a favorite.

“There’s just so many fun moments each year you experience with a different team,” Wallace said.

There’s one person to whom Wallace attributes some of her success: her sister, Ruby.

Before graduating last year, Ruby played volleyball and softball at Ligonier Valley.

While the two girls didn’t run together, Ruby had an important job: driving Clara to school every morning, because she didn’t have her driver’s license.

The younger Wallace has adjusted accordingly.

“I got my license, and I’ve been doing all right,” Wallace said. “Definitely miss it when I’m running late in the morning, and I have to make sure I get the car started when it’s cold out.”

Wallace plans on going to the Savannah (Ga.) College of Art and Design, and she’s not quite sure whether she’ll be involved in cross country there.

With her senior season in the rearview mirror, Wallace took some time for a Senior Spotlight Q&A:

How did you get started with cross country?

I’ve been running ever since I was little. It was a way for my mom and I to bond because it’s what she did with her dad. They would run together and sign up for all kinds of crazy races. She kind of got me into it by doing 5Ks. I joined Girls on the Run in fourth grade, and I did that program for fourth and fifth grade. That’s how I got started into running. My mom, since she has encouraged me to run so much, said, “Why don’t you join the cross country team?” So I had to pick between that and soccer, and I chose cross country.

What kind of pride did it give you representing your team at states?

That gives me a lot of pride, especially since we’re such a small school. It’s a big deal when anyone from Ligonier goes to states. It was really exciting, and I was honored that so many people were excited for me, too.

What is your relationship like with your sister?

My sister Ruby and I, we’re really close. We’re only like 15 months apart, so it’s kind of like we’re twins. We’ve done everything together since we were younger. We kind of went our separate ways in high school with what sports we picked. She has always been my No. 1 fan. She always asks how I do in my meets. She went with me last year when I made it to states. She rode in the van with me since I didn’t have any teammates going with me. She got me all ready for the race. Our connection is something that’s really important to me, and I’m glad to have her support in not just my athletics, so I really appreciate her.

How do you prepare for a race?

Coach (Al) Fiorina’s got us doing lots of hills, sprints in the middle of the woods. I did a lot more running with my cross country spikes this year. I’m testing those out a lot more at practice. Just going through the woods on different kinds of paths. I guess I’m just getting out in the woods more.

What is one thing that people may not know about you?

I’m training for a marathon. My cousin, Michael, he’s in the military. He’s stationed in Naples, Italy right now, and he’s been begging me to do the Rome Marathon. I am training for it. Will I get there, and will I be able to run? That’s a different story.


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