Ericka VanderLende: Foot Locker National Qualifier

Rockford Junior, Ericka VanderLende, crossing the Foot Locker finish line in 5th place.

Over the past 20 years of the Foot Locker Midwest Cross Country Regional Qualifier, 41 female runners from Michigan have finished in the top 10 to qualify for the Nationals. Of those qualifiers, Rockford High School has now sent 8 women runners to Foot Locker Nationals. The latest to qualify is Junior Ericka VanderLende, who finished 5th out of 234 runners in the seeded race this past Saturday at the University of Wisconsin Parkside course in Kenosha, Wisconsin.

Ericka joins fellow Ram alumni runners Kalin Toedebusch (4th 1999, 5th 2000), Emily Blakeslee (10th 1999), Linsey Blaisdell (6th 2000), Nicole Bohnsack (2nd 2001, 7th 2002), Katie Haines (9th 2007), Taylor Manett (4th 2011), and Lauren Brasure (6th 2013) all of which are top 10 record holders in Ram Cross Country history.

According to Mile Split Michigan, Ericka’s time of 17:37 places her 12th all-time from Michigan at the Foot Locker Midwest Regional behind Taylor Manett 10th in 17:35 and ahead of Lauren Brasure 15th in 17:47.

Upon learning the she was guaranteed a spot to San Diego, the soft-spoken Ericka, with a big smile and monster hug, told her Dad, “I did it!”

Not only did she qualify for Nationals, Ericka also has had a phenomenal running season. She placed first in 8 of 10 races this season. Her lowest place of the season came at the prestigious MSU Invite 4th and a very close 3rd place at the Portage Invite. Foot Locker National teammate, Olivia Theis took 1st at both MSU and Foot Locker.

During the season, Ms. VanderLende broke the long-standing Rockford 5K school record by running 17:09 at the MHSAA Regional in Allendale on October 28th and followed it up by winning the MHSSA Division One finals a week later in 17:16.

As Rockford Coach Ben Watson has noted, “Ericka is absolutely phenomenal. She has put in more miles than any other girl on the team. She’s very goal-oriented. She sets a goal, three or four months down the road and works every single day to meet that goal.”

One of her next goals is to make sure she has her racing bib ready to go. Foot Locker Midwest showed that attention to detail is important. Showing up for the race having left said bib number at the hotel is stressful. A good support group made sure that those details were taken care of well before the starting cannon was fired.

The next challenge for Ericka comes December 19, 2017 at Balboa Park in San Diego, California. Ericka will have good company at the National race as her Michigan Team took first at the Mid-West Regional placing (1, 5, 7, 8, 10) for a team low of 31 points to outdistance the other ten states competing.

The last Foot Locker qualifier from Rockford was in 2015 when Isaac Harding finished 9th at the Regional and 23rd at Nationals. All eyes will be on the Michigan contingent headed to San Diego and Rockford fans will be anxiously watching to see how Ericka VanderLende competes against the top 40 in the nation at the Foot Locker Nationals.

Other Rockford runners competing at the Foot Locker Regional were Freshman Karlie Gardner 8th 20:07 in the Freshman/Sophomore race. In the boy’s seeded race were Seniors’ Cole Johnson 20th 15:38 and Dayton Brown 41st 15:53 as well as Junior Jack Grimm 193rd 17:15. In the Boys Senior/Junior race: Evan Dubey was 57th 17:51. Also finishing the girls seeded race were Senior Cami Gabriel 64th 19:08, Junior Emma Everhart-Deckard 87th 19:38 and Senior Caleigh Dunn 94th 19:53.