Catholic Sentinel photos by Jonathan House
St. Mary's Academy runner Paige Rice leads the pack in the 800m race at the Centennial Invitational.
Catholic Sentinel photos by Jonathan House
St. Mary's Academy runner Paige Rice leads the pack in the 800m race at the Centennial Invitational.
Don’t let the polite modesty, girlish rosy complexion and sweet voice deceive — runner Paige Rice has a killer instinct and she annihilates her competition on the track.

After 17 years of working with high school athletes, St. Mary’s Academy coach Mike Bojorquez has encountered young runners with speed, but most of those freshman athletes also tend to shy away from challenge.  

Not Paige. This 15-year-old dominates.

Her time of 2:15.33 at the Centennial meet Easter weekend was a personal best, making her the leading girls runner in the state in both the 800- and 1,500-meter races.  

“You can see it in her eyes when she wants to do something,” Bojorquez said. “When she took the lead on Saturday, she took command of the race and it was over. There was nobody who was going to come and take it away from her.”

By mid-season this spring, Paige’s race times were faster than the 1,300-plus high school runners competing in each of those events. In the fall, she placed second in the state cross-country competition, helping the team earn a fourth-place ranking. Now the distance runner is showing promise in other events, running fast 400s and 200s.

“I’m always amazed,” Bojorquez said. “No matter what race you put her in, she’s good at it.”

With two parents who were lifelong runners, it was natural for Paige to hit the track in elementary school when many of her classmates preferred instead the basketball court or soccer field.

Her father, Craig Rice, will never forget his daughter’s first race when she was just 4 or 5. It was the 100-meter, and when Paige realized she wasn’t going to win, she peeled off the track and refused to finish. She fell down in a heap and cried her eyes out.

“I wasn’t sure what her running career would look like,” Craig said. “But in hindsight I see it as a sign of her competitive nature.”

Racing has become an outlet for that energy.

By the time Paige was 11, she had already collected first-place ribbons and medals. She beat 287 11- and 12-year-old competitors at the USA Track and Field Junior Olympic national cross-country championship by 17 seconds.

“I like to test my body, see how fast I can go,” Paige said. On the Sundays (when Bojorquez encourages his team to rest), the girl often hits the trails at Forrest Park for a long run with her dad.

At practice, the girls are friends, which makes even the hard workouts fun, Paige said. During the season, Paige said her life revolves around running and school. Sometimes she catches a movie or hangs out with friends (who are usually other runners).

For young people juggling athletics and academics, time management is key. That’s a skill Paige is still mastering.

“I come home from practice, procrastinate for a while, and eventually when I get my homework done it tends to come out of my sleep time,” she admitted. Craig said he and his wife LeeAnn keep an eye on their teen to be sure she’s getting enough sleep.

Otherwise, Paige takes care to keep her body in prime condition on season.

“I’m a normal teenager who likes to eat junk food, but I generally don’t while I’m training,” she said. Lunches are salads, pasta and lots of meat – fuel for her after-school workouts.

Even between seasons, Paige is working on her basics so, when practice starts, she has a solid structure to build on. This year the runner has built her mileage up to 35 miles a week — high for a freshman, but low overall, she said.  

Bojorquez doesn’t emphasize mileage with his team; he wants them to have fun so they don’t hate running by the time they graduate from high school. He looks forward to seeing what Paige is capable of as she matures as an athlete.

“We’ll slowly start putting more on her plate as she gets older,” he said. “She’s still only 15, but as she gets older and stronger, she will work her way up.” As Paige’s miles build up mid-season, Bojorquez said, she will back off toward the end of the season, and that’s when her times will really drop.

As for the future plans, the young runner spends most of her time focusing on the present. She hopes to run competitively in college. “But that’s a long way off,” she said.