Mike Oakley remembers vividly the time is 9-year-old daughter, Brie, left him in the dust during the 2008 Bolder Boulder 10K with absolutely no prior training.
Nine years later, Brie Oakley is now leaving everybody in Colorado and the country behind.
That 9-year-old with tremendous fitness, but little understanding of the sport, left her first love — soccer — and has climbed to the pinnacle of her new sport in a short time. She’s won a state championship and a national championship, and earned a Division I scholarship at Cal-Berkeley in just 18 months.
The statistical probability of such a rise is staggering, so fittingly, it was in her statistics class at Grandview on Jan. 31 that Oakley got the biggest surprise of her life.
In the door walked two-time Olympian Molly Huddle with the hefty Gatorade National Runner of the Year trophy to present to Oakley, the first winner from an Aurora school of the organization’s national award, which has been given out since 1985.
“They really surprised me,” Oakley said afterward. “Looking back on it, I should have picked up on it. My teacher was doing a statistics problem with me in it and a girl raised her hand and said ‘What is the probability that Brie is Gatorade’s National Athlete of the Year?’ and Ms. Powell said ‘100 percent.’
“It was amazing.”
Following her surprise, Oakley did several media interviews in person, online and over the phone, then got to take off on a private run with Huddle, who has become one of her heroes as she’s delved deeper into the world of distance running.
Watching the whole proceedings in appreciation and awe were Oakley’s parents, who have seen an incredible change in their daughter in the last year and a half.
“I’ve really seen her blossom; you can tell this is her absolute passion,” said Oakley’s mother, Angie. “She had a passion for soccer, but she has another level passion about running … She just has that extra spark and extra passion.
“She didn’t need to be a national champion, we just wanted her to be happy with what she’s doing. But to be the best, when she does her best, is phenomenal.”
Huddle knows a thing or two about being the best — after all, she owns American records in both the 5,000-meter and 10,000-meter runs, the latter established at the Olympics in Rio de Janiero last summer. Though meeting Oakley for the first time, she noted some similarities.
“I did other sports similar to Brie, then about halfway through high school I got really serious about it,” said Huddle, who starred at Notre Dame High School in Elmira, New York.
“It was kind of a similar progression, but I wasn’t that good at her age,” she added. “What she’s doing is pretty impressive.”
“I definitely watched her in the Olympics,” Oakley said of her meeting with Huddle. “She’s a beast.”
What Oakley has accomplished in just the last 18 months since she traded in a very successful soccer career for running gives her a beastly résumé, too.
Oakley finished second at the Class 5A state cross country meet as a junior — just two months after joining the team to the delight of coach Allyson Robbins — then won two 5A state championships on the track in the spring.
In her senior cross country season, Oakley won every one of her races in Colorado, setting course records at both the Liberty Bell Invitational and 5A state meets in the process. She also set a course record at the Woodbridge Classic in Norco, California, when she broke the 16-minute mark with a stunning 15:53.
The finishing touches on the season came when she won the Nike Cross National meet in Portland, Oregon, a year after she finished 26th in the same race.
“It’s just amazing to think back to where she was in September of 2015 until now,” Mike Oakley said. “The journey between those two points is mind-blowing, it really is.”
Besides the Gatorade national award, Oakley will receive the high school cross country award at the Sportswomen of Colorado’s 43rd Annual Awards Celebration March 12 at the Infinity Park Events Center. Then, she’ll be honored April 27 as the prep female athlete of the year for the Colorado Sports Hall of Fame, where she’ll be recognized along with Valor Christian quarterback Dylan McCaffrey and many other athletes from the pro and college ranks.
She still maintains her dedication to the classroom (she has a 4.60 weighted grade point average) and volunteers for the Aurora Public Library, but she’s given herself over fully to running.
Oakley is glad she got into running such a short time ago after seeing her time in soccer through, and now has her sites set on the future.
“I have dreams,” she said, noting that the thought of running in the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo is on her radar.
“I know it won’t be easy, but I’m definitely not shying away from anything and I’m excited for the future,” she said. “I definitely will always keep looking to the next thing and the next. This is amazing, but I know there’s always more out there.”