Niwot cross-country runner Addison Ritzenhein wins Gatorade National Player of the Year

Jan. 23—Running royalty courses through the veins of Boulder County, and on Tuesday morning, a new queen was crowned.

In a surprise presentation set on Niwot High School's track, representatives from Gatorade awarded Niwot sophomore Addison Ritzenhein with the Gatorade National Girls Cross Country Player of the Year award to add to a growing trophy collection.

Ritzenhein and 50 of her friends were kept in the dark until minutes before the announcement was made and they swarmed her in celebration.

Ritzenhein became the first female athlete from Colorado to win the esteemed award since Grandview's Brie Oakley in 2016-2017, and the first sophomore to win it since New York's Katelyn Tuohy did it in 2017-18. Tuohy personally presented her with the award.

"I was so surprised, being there with my teammates and seeing them so happy. I really, honestly thought that it was just a quick little local interview and stuff for state or something," Ritzenhein said. "It gives me a lot of confidence. I can't wait to see what I can do and see how far this will help my teammates too."

The accomplishment padded an already hefty resume for an athlete who only started running in seventh grade. Ritzenhein began her current string of victories when she won the 4A state cross country meet in October with a time of 17 minutes, 8.20 seconds to crush the old 4A state meet record. A few weeks later, she took home her first national title at the Nike Cross Nationals (17:10.40).

Neither time came close to matching her personal record of 16:44.90, which ranked her at No. 1 among high school runners across the nation during 2023. Tuohy, who won the award three times for cross country and once for track and field, relished the opportunity to meet another talented runner who's beginning to fill her own shoes.

"It really is a prestigious award and honestly, it's just an honor to be able to pass the torch to her," Tuohy said. "Her accolades kind of speak volumes, so it was really cool. She's a special young lady, and I know she'll continue to succeed in the future. ... I think she'll fly past me. She's already on an amazing path."

A star in the making

Ritzenhein has been no stranger to the world of elite running, even if it took her a little longer to fall in love with it.

Her father, Dathan, won Gatorade Boys Track and Field Player of the Year for the state of Michigan twice before continuing his professional career at three Olympic Games. He briefly held the American record for the 5,000-meter run from 2009 to 2010.

"She was always around, always at the meets," Dathan said. "She was there when I broke the American record in Zurich, watching Mickey Mouse Clubhouse on my wife's lap. She was 2 years old. She's been to all the Olympics. She doesn't remember all that stuff. I think, in my career, the things that she would remember were only, maybe, at the tail end of my career, but she's kind of been around that world ever since."

Dathan said that before Addison ever hit the running course, she channeled her athletic abilities into gymnastics and competitive swimming. The family's move to Niwot during the height of COVID-19 left her searching for a new outlet, one that led her to the REAL Training Colorado running program.

He was shocked when head coach Kelly Christensen informed him that Addison would make varsity as a freshman, on one of the best girls teams in the entire nation. That initial reaction, only a year ago, seems like a lifetime ago when compared to what she's been able to accomplish since.

She's barely scratched the surface.

"It's pretty incredible," Dathan said. "It's amazing to think, gosh, all these years later, and she's already so good. It was a bit of a surprise this year but she's super talented and motivated and driven."