By Bill Althaus

Gabe McClain considers himself one of the luckiest cross country runners on the planet, and for good reason.

For the past three seasons he learned from veteran coach Frank Gallick and his teammates, like Victor Mugeche, who is now running at the University of Missouri.

Gallick led the 2017 Wildcats to the Class 4 state championship, while Mugeche claimed the state individual title en route to being named The Examiner’s 2017 Cross Country Runner of the Year.

While Gallick is still in charge at Blue Springs, Mugeche and many of his state champion teammates have graduated, leaving McClain to carry on the strong Wildcat cross country tradition.

And he did it by winning the Suburban Big Six Conference championship, finishing second at districts, third at sectionals and earning a medal with a 17th-place finish at the Class 4 state meet. That’s why Mcclain is the 2018 Examiner Boys Cross Country Runner of the Year.

“Gabe made the very difficult transition from being a member of a very good team, to being the guy on the team, and he handled it beautifully,” Gallick said.

“He learned a lot of Victor and Oaklee, and we all knew he was ready to go this year. And I’m so happy he won this award because he really earned it and deserves it.”

More so than medals and awards, McClain savors the special moments with his Wildcats teammates.

“Being a member of the Blue Springs cross country team is more like being a member of a family, of a brotherhood, than a team,” McClain said. “When I think of Victor and Oaklee (Hauschild), I think of my brothers. I remember what it was like running side by side with them, watching them train, learning from them – and I missed them this year.

“But I wanted to have a special year to honor those guys, to let them know we still have a great team at Blue Springs.”

McClain said he remember all the past Blue Springs runners to win the Runner of the Year award.

“And to win this award is really amazing. To be mentioned along with Victor, Stephen (Mugeche) and Simon (Belete) – who all won the award while they ran for Blue Springs – is pretty unbelievable.

“I just want to thank everyone who voted for me. It was the perfect way to end my cross country career at Blue Springs.”

His high school cross country career may be over, but he is looking forward to competing at Missouri Southern State University.

“I can’t wait for college, it’s going to offer a lot of new challenges,” said McClain, who has been running since he was in second grade. “Running has always been a big part of my life.

“My mom (Florence Lenotte) is from France, and she was part of a national championship cross country team, so I guess you could say running is a family, generational thing. It’s just in our blood – and I’m blessed that it is.”