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'I can do hard things,' Pergitone proves what 4 years of consistency can accomplish

After her sophomore cross country season left her feeling frustrated and burnt out, Ava Pergitone decided to hang up her shoes and take the summer off.

“I ran fast in the summertime. We had done time trials and I did really well in them, but once the season came along I got super burnt out,” the St. Clair senior said. “I just kept getting slower and didn’t really enjoy it very much.”

She started the season with her fastest-ever time of 19 minutes, 36 seconds. But she finished the year running in the low 21-minute range.

Pergitone runs at the MAC Cross Country Championship on Oct. 22.

“Physically it’s fine, but mentally when you think about it, it’s like, ‘What am I doing wrong here? I’m still trying but not getting the results at all,’” Pergitone said. “I just didn’t want to go through that again.”

That was in 2020. Fast forward to the conclusion of the 2022 cross country season and she is now the second-fastest girl in school history.

Pergitone decided at the last minute to compete as a junior in 2021 despite missing out on the typical summer training. She still managed to run a season’s best of 19 minutes, 56 seconds and qualify for the MHSAA State Finals.

“Toward the end of the summer I realized I really missed it and I just needed to get back into it. I joined when the season officially started in August,” Pergitone said. “I didn’t do too bad, but it definitely would’ve been better if I had stuck with it all summer.”

With that in mind, she approached her final cross country season this fall with new-found passion for the sport and confidence in herself to do well. She had steady improvements all season, consistently running in the high-19s.

“I tell the kids all the time that I’ll take someone who’s super consistent over someone who maybe runs a really quick time out of nowhere because it shows their dedication and toughness,” St. Clair head coach Tom Brenner said. “It’s not easy to do.”

Pergitone runs at the regional championship on Oct. 29

She ran a season’s best of 19:48 at the MAC cross country championship, and a week later, ran 19:49 at the regional meet to place fifth and qualify for the State Finals for the fourth and final time.

The State Finals, however, proved to be a rough day for everyone as times were on average 30 to 60 seconds slower thanks to the intense winds. She finished in 20:33. But that would not be the end of her career.

“It was outstanding. Any time a kid gets one more shot, you hope they can do something great with it,” Brenner said. “We always talk about ‘a shot at greatness,’ and she had one more shot at greatness.”

Pergitone ran at the MITCA Meet of Champions the following Saturday alongside some of the fastest girls in the state, regardless of division.

“I went through the first mile and they said my time and I was like, ‘OK, I might die,’ but then I just kept going,” Pergitone said. “There was no clock at the two-mile and my coach was there and he was telling me that if I wanted to break 20 minutes, I had to give it a go, so I started going faster.

“When I came around the corner and the clock said 18, I was like, ‘Oh my gosh.’ I was so confused.”

She would cross the finish line in 19:06, a long-awaited 30-second personal record. It was also the second-fastest time in St. Clair girls cross country history.

“Honestly, it was really relieving that after four years I’ve spent running, I can do hard things,” Pergitone said. “You can reach your goals. It doesn’t have to be at the state meet or regionals or something, I just need to learn to relax and enjoy it more.”

She said that relaxed mindset was exactly what helped her succeed at the MITCA Meet of Champions.

“There was no pressure on me at all. It was just go out there and run. Try to do well if you can and if you don't, oh well,” she said. “It was just more for the experience to run with some faster people on a course I’ve never been on.”

To make the day even more exciting, Pergitone followed her race with a visit to Central Michigan University where she would meet head cross country coach Jenny Swieton and some of the team members. A few weeks later, she announced her official commitment to the program.

“I’m super excited to make the decision. I really like that school so it’s nice to know that that’s where I’m going and that’s the plan,” Pergitone said. “Their coach is very nice and I was looking for a team that’s not just about running. Obviously that’s the main part, but they’re also really close and friends who you can hang out with outside of practice.”

Pergitone has proven what can be accomplished through consistent work, which is a lesson Brenner said he hopes will inspire future Saints.

“I hope that every girl who is or will be a part of our program can look at her and realize that she’s earned it all and that’s what our program is about,” Brenner said. “Show up as many days as you possibly can, even the days you don’t want to be there. We’ve all been there, in running and in life. There’s days you don’t want to go to work or show up for practice or you’re not feeling a race. She found a way to keep fighting through that and has shown kids what's possible.”

And she’ll look to apply this lesson to her own career as she gets ready for her final outdoor track season with her eyes set on another record.

With a personal best of 5:21.9 in the 1600-meter, Pergitone will look to break the school record of 5:18 originally set in 2010.

“Just keep pushing through the hard days because there will be better days and if you stay dedicated to the sport, you’ll get the results you want,” Pergitone said. “Keep your goals in your mind always and keep working hard, even when it feels like you should give up and it’s not worth it. It will be worth it in the end.”


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