Prior to this year, if you were to have told cross country runner Claire Sumner that she would be a national champion and compete for Canada at the IAAF world championships in Uganda, she probably would have never believed you. In a year of surprises for the Queen’s runner, Sumner finished her rise to the top of university sports by being awarded the OUA female athlete of the year award.
“It was quite a surprise, it means a lot. It’s a huge honour just because there are so many talented athletes, so being named female athlete of the year is pretty exciting and I’m really happy about it,” Sumner said.
Sumner’s impressive year at Queen’s made her an obvious front runner for the award. She started it off with a convincing win at the Queen’s invitational — where both men and women ran eight-kilometers — which acted as only a prelude to what would come in the following weeks. At the OUA championships, Sumner ran the six-kilometre race in a stunning 27:50 to land her the gold medal.
After scoring her win at the OUA’s, Sumner qualified for the national championships at the Plains of Abraham in Quebec. After winning gold, she began to think about the possibility of racing for team Canada at the world championships.
“When OUAs and [nationals] went better than I thought, that was when the world team was kind of on the radar,” Sumner said. After a third-place finish at the Canadian Cross Country Championships that took place in Kingston in November, Sumner scored herself the opportunity to run with the world’s best in Kampala, Uganda for Team Canada.
While in Uganda, Sumner was among the likes of athletes that had competed in the Rio Olympics just seven months before. When asked to describe the experience, Sumner jokingly described it as being “quite hot.”
“They’re incredible, they’re the world’s best so just to stand on the line beside them was quite the feeling.”
After admitting that she couldn’t really remember the race, Sumner noted that the running wasn’t the highlight of her experience.
“Putting on the singlet for my country, that was the most exciting thing for me, probably, and I hope to continue to do that,” Sumner proudly said. She finished the race in 52nd place out of 104 runners.
Sumner hasn’t always been a Gael though. After spending her first year at the University of Toronto, Sumner transferred to Queen’s, which was likely one of the most impactful decisions of her cross country career. When asked about the transfer, Sumner said the result has been a rapid improvement in racing time.
While it would be expected that this kind of success would come at the end of one’s university experience, Sumner still has more to give. Sumner will be making full use of her final year of eligibility, as she will be returning to represent Queen’s on the national and, she hopes, the international stage once again.
“Hopefully another good year ahead,” Sumner said about her hopes for the coming season.
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