Makayla Erickson and Maggie Wood share a common passion – they love running. “I like the way it makes me feel,” Wood said. “It makes me feel happy. It makes me feel fresh after I run. I just like the feel of being in shape.”

That passion for running, that appreciation, is what makes Erickson and Wood the top two runners on Centralia High School’s cross-country team. Both qualified for state last year as sophomores. Heading into districts on Saturday at Lewis River Golf Course in Woodland, they hope to return to the state meet.

Centralia’s Makayla Erickson is driven by her passion for running. Photo courtesy: Steve Creel.

In other sports, running is punishment. Coaches say, “Go take a lap,” when someone messes up. But for Erickson and Wood, running is a treat. And for Erickson, running has become a discipline that’s taught her an important life lesson – hard work equals success.

“It really helps you focus on everything else,” Erickson said. “It helps you mentally through other things in life like relationships or school. It helps you keep focused, determined.”

And besides life lessons, running has another reward for Erickson.

“I also like the feeling of it,” Erickson said. “It helps me calm down after a bad day. It keeps me competitive as well.”

For both Erickson and Wood, they hear this inner voice when they run in a meet. It always says, “Go faster.” To do well, they know they have to keep pushing themselves. That determined inner voice has spilled over into the classroom. These two talented runners are 4.0 students, never getting anything lower than an A in high school. They haven’t let sports eclipse the classroom.

“Yeah, I really try not to let that happen,” Erickson said. “Actually, it does happen sometimes. But I just try to focus through, to school.”

It’s all about hard work and making sure all the homework gets done.

Centralia’s Maggie Wood is a junior hoping to return to state in cross country. Photo courtesy: Steve Creel.

“It requires a lot of focus, which is kind of difficult for me,” Wood said. “You have to sacrifice other things and do your homework.”

Homework is first. TV and other entertainment is secondary. And there’s no goofing around.

All season long, Erickson has kept the peddle down in races, running as hard as she can. Meanwhile, Wood has fought through health issues, battling an iron deficiency that’s ebbed her energy levels. She’s started to take supplements, giving her an energy boost. As a result, she ran her fastest race of the year at the league championship, placing in the top 10.

“Maggie is really mentally tough,” said Steve Creel, Centralia’s cross country coach. “She gets up for the big races and runs well.”

Wood’s strength is her ability to keep a solid pace throughout a race.

“Just a lot of mental toughness and high pain tolerance,” Creel said. “During the race she does well in the middle to the latter part. She passes a lot of kids.”

Wood doesn’t have sprinter’s speed. But she has that inner driver to keep the pace.

“She’s really tough mentally and she has good endurance,” Creel said.

Makayla Erickson and Maggie Wood are Centralia’s two top cross-country runners. Photo courtesy: Steve Creel.

Erickson, the Tigers’ top runner all season, has the same mental grit and ability to run through pain.

“She’s mentally tough,” Creel said. “She has a high pain tolerance as well. She’s very self-motivated, an individual worker and very independent. She works all year long on running. She’s very dedicated to the sport.”

To place high at state, both Wood and Erickson are going to have to run their 5K race faster than 20 minutes, dropping in the 19-minute range for the first time. Creel thinks they can do it. As a motivation to run faster, Creel dangles a team objective.

“I think a big part of it is the kids need to run for more than themselves,” Creel said. “They need to run for their teammates. It’s reaching out beyond what they want to do and running for the team. That’s what builds a strong team.”

Both Erickson and Wood got into running about the same age. The summer before Wood was going into eighth grade she wanted to sign up for summer camp for track. But to her surprise, it didn’t turn out that way. “My dad accidently signed me up for a cross country camp,” Wood said with a giggle. “I was really bummed out. But then I had fun and signed up for it that fall.”

By accident, Wood found her sport. She doesn’t turn out for basketball or softball for a reason.

“Well, if I’m being frank, I don’t have too much hand-eye coordination,” she said.

Erickson plays basketball and both she and Wood run track in the spring. Erickson likes the 3,200 most, running a personal best 12:14. Wood likes the 1,600 and has run it in 5:36. They both enjoy the longer races because they get to do what they like to do – run.

Erickson started running competitively in sixth grade. That early start had a prod – her mom, who is the coach of the middle school.

“They just kind of threw me in there and I’ve been running ever since then,” Erickson said.

And she’s been enjoying every stride.

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