South Whidbey High School grad wins gold medal at Junior Olympics

Kaia Swegler Richmond ran the two-kilometer women’s steeplechase with a time of 7:26.14.

A Langley runner brought home a first-place win from the National Junior Olympic Track and Field Championships in Jacksonville, Fla. Aug. 1, earning a personal record in the process.

Kaia Swegler Richmond, a 2021 South Whidbey High School graduate, ran the two-kilometer women’s steeplechase with a time of 7:26.14, beating both the second place runner and her own personal record by 10 seconds. The 17-year-old athlete had been slated for fifth place.

The National Junior Olympics are put on annually by United States Track and Field for middle and high school athletes.

This year’s event was hot and muggy, with both temperature and humidity in the 90s.

Swegler Richmond has been a prominent figure in the local cross country scene throughout her time in high school. She will begin her college career in the fall at Concordia University in Nebraska, where she has signed to run cross country and track.

Her Concordia coach, Matt Beisel, said Swegler Richmond’s Junior Olympics steeplechase win “put an exclamation point on her high school career.”

“Best technical steeplechase race I’ve ever seen her do,” he said.

Steeplechase is a distance running event full of obstacles, including barriers to jump over and pools of water to wade through.

South Whidbey High School does not have a steeplechase track, so when Swegler Richmond arrived in Florida for the Junior Olympics, she had only run steeplechase a handful of times.

Beisel adjusted Swegler Richmond’s summer training routine to prepare her for the race.

The runner practiced jumping over South Whidbey High School’s single steeplechase-style barrier over and over, the coach said.

Swegler Richmond will leave for Nebraska later this month. Beisel expressed his excitement at having her on Concordia’s team.

“The thing I love about her the most is who she is as a person,” he said. “She is going to be a great teammate.”