Ever since she was in fifth grade, Freehold Township High School cross country runner Emma Zawacki has dreamed of competing alongside the best high school students in the U.S. at a national championship.

That dream became a reality for Zawacki on Dec. 10 when she competed as one of the nation’s top 40 runners at the Champs Sports Cross Country Championships at Balboa Park in San Diego, California.

Tears of joy streamed down Zawacki’s cheeks as she fulfilled her childhood dream to the cheers of her parents, Alison and Jeff, and her Olympic idols Emma Coburn, Cory McGee and Danny Jones, who were in the stands at Balboa Park.

Zawacki, a junior at Freehold Township, completed the 5-kilometer (3.1-mile) course in 18:11 to place 23rd out of 40 runners who entered the race.

“It was a dream come true,” Zawacki said in a post-race interview. “It’s something that a lot of people don’t get a chance to experience. I am honored to have lived through it. It’s the coolest thing I’ve ever felt. It was the best day ever.”

Zawacki said her goal at California was to finish among the top 30 runners, and she not only met her goal, but “crushed” it, posting the second-fastest time of the 2022 season.

“It’s been my No. 1 goal since fifth grade. To achieve that and have a great race is the best experience I’ve ever had,” she said.

Zawatski’s impressive performance at the nationals in San Diego capped off a historic season and year in cross country.

In June, Zawacki won the 1,600 meters at the Meet of Champions, capping off the spring track and field season.

On Oct. 20, Zawacki clocked a time of 17:09.67 to win the Shore Conference Championship at Ocean County Park in Lakewood.

From there, she won the gold medal at the Central Jersey Group IV Sectional Meet, the Group IV State Championship and the NJSIAA Meet of Champions.

The Meet of Champions brings together the best athletes from across New Jersey from high schools of all sizes to compete against each other. The sectional and group meets that precede the Meet of Champions separate athletes by region and school size.

Zawacki is the first boy or girl cross country runner from Freehold Township High School to win a gold medal at the Meet of Champions.

After winning the Cross Country Meet of Champions, Zawacki competed in the Champs Sports Northeast Regional at Van Cortlandt Park in Bronx, New York on November 26. She finished 10th and became the first Freehold cross country runner to qualify for cross country nationals. to meet

Placing herself in the Freehold Township record book led Zawacki to realize her dream and get an opportunity she hopes to repeat in 2023.

The 2022 running campaign was a historic season for Zawacki and, even better, it ended with her childhood dream of competing at nationals.

“It was a super cool experience. The feeling is amazing. The good results (at the national championships) were a great way to end the season,” she said.

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