By HOWARD SENZELL
FOR THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Rylee Bowen, a 12-year-old Rincon Valley resident, took home the gold medal Sunday in the 1,500 meters at the USA Youth Track Championships in Arlington, Texas.
She finished in 4:45.20 and edged Julia Heymach of Houston by a tenth of a second while running against 13- and 14-year-olds. On Saturday, Bowen finished second in the 3,000 meters, completing the race in 10:43.98.
It’s not surprising Bowen has a talent for running. Her mother, Nika, was one of the Redwood Empire’s top long-distance runners. She attended Cal Poly-San Luis Obispo on a full scholarship and was dominant in local races from 1990-2004. Her maiden name is Horn.
Her daughter’s victory in the USA Championships was the most exciting race of the six-day event staged on the campus of the University of Texas-Arlington in 100-degree heat.
The field for the 1,500 included three of the country’s top-ranked runners, but after the initial 800 meters in 2:28, Bowen and Heymach had distanced themselves from the field.
“I thought Julia (Heymach) was the runner I had to beat and so my strategy was not to let her out of my sight,” Bowen said.
In the final 100, there were four lead changes with Bowen leaning forward at the finish line to get the victory. The final time was the third-fastest in America for the division in 2012.
“The first thing I felt after the race was shock,” Bowen said. “It was so close. I just gave it that one last lunge, just like my friend Kim Conley did in the Olympic Trials last Thursday.”
Conley, with a lunge at the finish line, secured the third and final spot on the U.S. Olympic team in the 5,000 meters. She is a Montgomery High graduate,
“I texted Kim right after my win, thanking her for giving me inspiration,” Bowen said. When possible, the two meet up for a run.
While this was her first win in a national event, Bowen has made believers of runners in the Empire. Despite being 5-foot-1 and weighing just 85 pounds, she defeated women in Petaluma’s Moo Cow 5K. In 2011, she ran the third fastest 5K (18:04) in the country while finishing third in an open Napa race.
Last year, Bowen picked up two medals in the USA Youth Championships and was fourth in the Cross Country Junior Olympics Nationals.
She is trained by her mother and Sean Fitzpatrick, an assistant coach at Sonoma State and Santa Rosa High.
“We run an average of four times a week,” Fitzpatrick said.
“I’ve been running with her for years. In fact, Nika used to bring Rylee along when she was in a stroller.
“I think her best attributes are her fortitude and mind-set. She likes to win and is always working to get better.”
Bowen gives Fitzpatrick and her mother all the credit for her achievements.
“They built me to get to this level,” she says. “Without their guidance, I wouldn’t be running. Everything I’ve learned, I owe to my mother and Sean.
“I love to run and I love to surround myself with runners.”
Her mother sees a lot of herself in her daughter.
“She loves to run, race and then put it aside and have a great time with friends she met at the track.
“My goal for Rylee is for her to love running when she’s 80 as much as she does today.”
Bowen, who graduated from Austin Creek Elementary in June, will attend Rincon Valley Middle School in the fall.
Besides running and triathlons, she swims for Neptune Swimming and rides with the Team Swift Bike Club.
She’ll travel to Ohio for her next race, the USA Youth Triathlon Championships in mid-August.