Maggie McPherson has been running for as long as she can remember, and she's always been trying to keep up with her older sisters.
Now, cross country competitors from around the Sauk Valley are trying to keep up with her.
McPherson is one of many talented underclassmen in this year's cross country crop. The Sterling freshman won the Twin Cities Meet on Sept. 17 at Hoover Park, and earned a top-20 finish on Saturday at the 15-team, 176-runner Rock River Run on the same course.
"I just love running; I can't imagine doing any other sport," McPherson said. "I'm just so happy when I'm running, and I just feel so good about myself after I run a long distance. It's just you against yourself and the clock, and there's such a feeling of pride and accomplishment when you reach the goals you set for yourself."
For the third of four children in the McPherson clan, one would think there would always be the temptation to compare herself with older sisters Elise and Carrie, both of whom run cross country at Augustana.
But instead of competing against her sisters, directly or indirectly, Maggie is far more content to lean on Carrie and Elise for support and encouragement. Her favorite races are the ones where either or both of her sisters can come and watch her run; it's a role reversal Maggie loves.
"I watched my sisters run year after year, and I couldn't wait to get into middle school and high school and have them watch me," Maggie said. "I wanted to be just like them, and they've always been my biggest role models.
"They always give such great advice, great pre-race pep talks, and just teach me so much. There's a lot of knowledge and experience being passed down to me, and it's always great to hear what they have to say."
Sterling coach Tyler Gaumer, who coached Carrie in track, has relished the opportunity to coach the two sisters. He calls them "so similar and so different at the same time," saying their carefree attitude and natural love and ability for the sport make then fun athletes to coach.
But while their attitude and love for running is very much the same, he says there are a lot of little things – mannerisms, habits, quirks – that make them such different personalities.
The thing that impresses Gaumer the most is the fact that Maggie seems to have no designs on being the next Carrie.
"There's no sense of pressure to live up to her sisters, because she's really her own runner," Gaumer said. "We want our girls to pave their own path and plot their own course as athletes, and Maggie is really good about just running against herself.
"She knows she's not going to get any better by comparing herself to her sisters' times, so she doesn't worry about anything but doing what works best for her to drop her own times."
As a family activity, nothing beats running in the McPherson household. While she misses having Elise and Carrie around all the time, her parents and brother Ryan – an eighth-grader on the Challand Middle School cross country team – provide plenty of moral support and joy for running.
She's already looking forward to following her sisters into the college ranks.
"I always look forward to Tuesdays and Saturdays when I can go out and attack a course during a meet," Maggie said. "I love my teammates and coaches, and it's such a great group of girls that I get to be around everyday.
"But I hope to run in college, like my sisters, and I can't wait to run the longer distances and take on the bigger challenges in front of me."
Sports: Cross country, track
Parents: Jim & Cathy McPherson
Siblings: Sisters Elise (college senior) & Carrie (college sophomore), brother Ryan (8th grader)
FYI: Elise and Carrie run cross country at Augustana, and Ryan competes in cross country at Challand Middle School. … Won Twin Cities Meet on Sept. 17 at Hoover Park.