PENN >> Olympic Gold Medalist Cierra Runge returned to her roots at the Jennersville Y on Monday and was greeted by a warm and loving crowd of friends and admirers.
The 20-year-old Octorara High School graduate and Cochranville native won the qualifying round in the women’s 4x200 freestyle race, thus enabling her entire team to take gold in the finals at the games in Rio de Janero.
Runge began her swimming training at the age of 5 at the Jennersville Y but later moved on to elite swim clubs in Baltimore when she was 10 when it was evident that she was headed for future glory if only she pursued her talent.
She faced her hometown audience of about 150 kids and parents accompanied by her Jennersville Y coach, Ali Verbanas, in the late afternoon bedside the pool. There Runge answered questions from the children and talked about her experiences.
When she was asked how it feels to be in the Olympics, she said, “Really cool.”
What about her future?Yes, she will keep training for the 2020 Olympics.
One child asked if the Gold Medal she was wearing had chocolate inside.
“If it did, it would be gone by now,” she said.
Runge said when she was swimming the races she at first felt pressure and excitement, but then just got absorbed in working to win when she hit the water.
She talked about her exhaustive training regime and said she felt elation of standing on the podium, hearing the “Star Spangled Banner” and getting the medal. She said also that she was inspired by other members of her team including veteran Medalist Michael Phelps.
Verbanas, who coached Runge from the start at the Y said, “She was fun to coach. She was the kid who would go all out.”
She added that it was bitter sweet to see Runge leave Jennersville for more elite clubs. On the one hand, she would miss her, but on the other hand, she would be in a position to achieve her goals. “We knew she was going to move to bigger things,” she said.
YMCA swimming instructor Katie Doochack, who also worked with Runge, said it was evident even when the swimmer was 5 that she had talent.
“When they have that spark and love the water, you can tell right away. She had that early pizzazz,” she said.
Jennersville Y head Head Swimming Team Coach Mary Alice Miller said Runge still holds at least six swimming records at the Y from when she was 6, 8 and 9 years old.
The staff at the Y was also excited that Runge decided to pay a tribute to her Y with the contribution of items she received — and even used — at the Olympics. The Y is raffling them off (including a warm-up jacket she actually wore) and it will go to a scholarship that Runge wanted to establish to support the training of another 5-year-old swimmer who shows promise.
“I’m excited for the scholarship. I’m glad she’s doing that,” Doochack said.
Runge later sat for pictures and autographs with the children.
She is scheduled to return to college at the University of Wisconsin next week.