When Ellis Richardson was in the eighth grade, he knew something had to change. Describing himself as “chubby and out of shape,” Richardson would soon chart a new path for himself.
“I was close to being obese according to the BMI,” he said. “Something in me wanted to turn things around.”
The following year, Richardson tried out for Oakwood High’s cross country team, and his life hasn’t been the same since. The senior has improved every year and is looking to cap off his career with a strong showing in the upcoming Central Coast Section championships.
“I’m really happy with the season I’m having and happy to see all the progress I’ve made,” said Richardson, who carries a 4.55 GPA. “This year has been a lot of fun being on a team again, connecting and having that community aspect.”
In six races this season, Richardson has three first-place finishes, a seventh, a 16th and a 17th. It was the 16th-place finish at the Crystal Springs Invitational on Oct. 2 that proved to be the highlight of his season thus far. He finished the famed 2.95-mile course in Belmont in a personal-record (PR) of 16 minutes, 46 seconds, establishing a school record in the process.
“I also got to watch my teammates compete, too, and it was really fun to see them improve,” he said. “That’s what made it extra special.”
Richardson, who bettered his previous PR by 10 seconds, said the performance was special because his mom, Pearl, also raced at Crystal Springs on several occasions when she prepped at Westmoor High in Daly City. Pearl went on to run at the community college and four-year level.
“My mom always talked about that course so it meant a lot to me to do well there,” he said. “She’s always been supportive of my running, whether it was taking me out on runs (years ago) or finding time to watch me compete and drive me to practices or meets.”
Richardson has Oakwood team practices four times a week, and he’ll usually run one to two times on his own on the weekend. Oftentimes, he’ll simply take off from his San Martin home and run through the hills nearby.
“It’s really a stress reliever, fun and I feel good every time I get out there,” he said.
Richardson said he was one of the slowest boys runners on the Oakwood team in his freshman year, which helped motivate him to train for the long haul.
“I wasn’t athletic in middle school and wasn’t anywhere near the fastest when I got to Oakwood,” he said. “It’s been mostly about hard work and consistency. I like running because if you put in the work, you will get rewarded.”
Richardson has thoroughly enjoyed the team dynamic this season, and No. 2 runner Vlad Zaitsau—while not as fast as Richardson—has earned Richardson’s respect because of the constant effort he puts in. Even though running is a highly individualized sport, cross country has a team dynamic because the top five runners are scored for points in every race. Supporting his teammates and receiving encouragement from them during races have been extra rewarding for Richardson, who drew inspiration from his family and friends when he ran in the CCS Championships in his sophomore year.
“Their support was amazing,” he said. “On the day of CCS, I was actually coming down with a cold so I wasn’t feeling my best. I went out really fast, hung on at the end and got the place I needed to make state. That was my favorite moment, finding out I made state.”
Richardson was enthralled to compete in the CIF State Meet, as approximately 900 runners from throughout the state gather at Woodward Park in Fresno for the iconic race.
“State was so much fun,” he said. “It was such a fast race and it was great to see something so centered around other people who try as hard as me and put in a lot of work.”
Sports Editor Emanuel Lee can be reached at [email protected]