Heading into last weekend’s Colorado State High School Track and Field Championships, some hardcore track fans and a few dozen coaches and athletes on Colorado’s Western Slope had heard of Montezuma-Cortez High School freshman Avery Wright.
Maintaining total anonymity can be difficult for ninth graders who stand 5-foot, 10-inches tall and are capable of running 100 meters in less than 12.5 seconds, even in a town the size of Cortez, where cows outnumber condos and citizens still know their mail carrier’s first name.
Still, before last weekend, Wright’s name had never lit up a big-city scoreboard, and her picture had not appeared on www.co.milesplit.com, the most well-known prep track website offering coverage within the Centennial State’s boarders.
Wright had never competed in Colorado’s premier prep track event, and before last weekend was relatively unknown. Then, the talented freshman stepped onto the track at Jeffco Stadium in Lakewood, and from that moment forward, everything changed.
Blistering state title performancesUpon stepping onto the track at Jeffco Stadium to warm up before the preliminary heats of the 100-meter dash on May 16, Wright noticed the packed stands around her and felt a buzz in the air.
As she laced up her cleats and ran through familiar stretches, the freshman knew her next few days would be anything but ordinary, and after taking several dozen warmup strides, Wright stepped back and took everything in.
“(I was thinking), I’m finally here,” Wright said. “I remember standing on the track and looking to my left and my right and seeing all of the crowd and thinking that I’m going to run in front of all these people.”
By the time Wright stepped behind the blocks for the preliminaries of the 100-meter dash, butterflies had amassed in her stomach, and nerves were beginning to take hold. For a few moments, Wright felt like a deer in the headlights on her state’s biggest prep track stage.
As pressure continued to amplify, Wright was approached by her older sister, Aryelle Wright, a track star in her own right who shattered school records and captured top honors in the 400-meter dash at the state meet in 2018. A maternal figure on the M-CHS team and a role model to Avery since birth, Aryelle offered words of encouragement and then produced a phone that delivered an inspirational message.
“Before I got into the blocks, my sister was by me and she showed me this video of this great Olympic runner that said how you can have fear and a lot of emotions, but at the end of the day, you’re there to compete,” Avery Wright said. “I just thought about that video and thought about my sister and everyone that was supporting me and I thought, ‘Just go out with a bang.’”
After collecting her thoughts and summoning her strength, Wright did just that, as she flew over the track to produce a time of 12.48 seconds, which stood as the top time of the preliminary round.
Later in the afternoon on May 16, Wright returned to the track for the preliminary heats of the 200-meter dash and raced to a time of 25.27 seconds, which represented the best preliminary round time in the event.
A day of rest and relays, which included a state-record performance in the girls 4-x-200-meter relay, followed Wright’s opening performance, and on May 18, the freshman returned to the track for her individual event finals.
Opening the day with the 100-meter dash, Wright exited the blocks well and led from start to finish while posting a personal best time of 12.36 seconds and earning the first individual state championship of her high school career.
“It felt like a really good start and it felt like I was out from the beginning,” Wright said of her performance in the 100-meter dash. “Right after my race, when I crossed the finish line, there was a giant scoreboard that had the places and the time. I remember looking up there and realizing (that I won), and I smiled and I was so happy.”
Oozing with confidence after her championship performance, Wright returned to the track for the 200-meter dash, ran a time of 25.23 seconds and bested a talented field that included her sister and senior teammate Morgan Short to again win gold.
“I had my sister and Morgan Short in that race,” Wright said. “That race was different because I had those two girls by my side. Knowing that they were there helping me and supporting me made it even more special.”
The road to goldWhile Wright’s titles in the 100-meter dash and 200-meter dash served as a defining moment in her life and in her track career, the seeds for gold were neither planted overnight nor sewn without sacrifice.
The product of a track family that included her mother, Amber Cunningham, who was a state champion and a school record-holder in the 400-meter dash, her sister, Olivia Wright, who was a state qualifier, and her sister, Aryelle, who won the 400-meter dash at last year’s state track meet, Avery Wright was never a stranger to her sport.
Shortly after she learned to walk, Wright was already running, and by the time she hit elementary school, she had already won numerous races with her peers and attended high school state meets as a fan.
“Track is a big thing in my family. We are competitive, but blood always comes first,” Wright said. “I’ve been going to state since I was in second grade to watch my older sister run. We’ve learned to love and support one another and to be competitors at the same time.”
By the time Wright arrived in middle school in 2015, her talent was obvious, and by the time she arrived at M-CHS for the 2018-19 school year, coaches realized they had a pupil with rare talent.
Among those aware of Wright’s ability was M-CHS track coach Bob Archibeque, who coached Wright’s mother and has overseen several other state champions during his 43-year coaching career.
“We knew watching Avery in middle school that she would be an awesome kid in any program, especially ours,” Archibeque said. “We knew that when she came from Dolores, we had hit gold. She was going to bring a tradition and possibly even a dynasty to our program.”
While Archibeque eagerly awaited his new star’s arrival at the track, Wright adjusted to a high school life that included several challenging classes, increased homework, and new and unfamiliar social structures.
Acclimation did not prove to be especially difficult for Wright, however, as she bonded with supportive teammates, excelled in the classroom and starred as an outside hitter for her school’s volleyball team.
“(Coming to high school) was definitely something new,” Wright said. “Eighth grade year, you’re the top dog, and coming into high school, you’re a freshman. Luckily, I had my sister, and since I’m an athlete, I had so many other teammates that welcomed me in.”
After lifting weights throughout the fall and winter and competing in a few indoor track meets between Thanksgiving and the start of the outdoor track season, Wright arrived at Panther Stadium for her first outdoor track practice, which took place on her birthday.
In a moment that Wright later described as surreal, teammates welcomed her by singing “Happy Birthday” and Archibeque subsequently delivered an inspiring speech that described his expectations and the team’s goals.
“It all felt very welcoming. I remember Coach Archibeque giving this great talk about being a high school athlete,” Wright said. “It was amazing.”
“I tell our athletes to always work hard,” said Archibeque when asked about the speech. “I think that’s the key ingredient in all athletics. If you’re working hard, the rewards will come.”
As the opening weeks and months of the outdoor track season came and went, Archibeque’s words continually struck a chord with Wright, as she and her teammates shared laughs and pushed one another to improve.
As meet titles piled up for the freshman, her confidence grew, yet her commitment to good sportsmanship and hard work never wavered. Time and time again, she offered support to teammates while offering kind words to vanquished opponents.
“I felt like (the regular season) was almost kind of a dream,” Wright said. “Seeing my name at the top of the results for part of the season, it was like, ‘I’m actually here, and I’m showing people what I can do.’ I had amazing coaches that supported me through the whole thing.”
“The fact that Avery was winning a lot was real important, but the thing that I liked the most was that she stayed humble as well,” Archibeque said. “It is special when an athlete is talented and they bring that humility with it.”
As the regular season wound down and the state meet drew nearer, Wright focused on maintaining her healthy diet and getting adequate sleep while reducing the overall distance of her workouts and focusing on speed.
“My mom was an athlete, and it’s all healthy food at home, so I don’t really have to worry about diet,” Wright said. “I made sure to take a lot of time for myself to mentally prepare for the state competition.”
“A lot of (Wright’s) success had to do with how she took care of herself off the field,” Archibeque said. “We’re real fortunate that she comes from a background where Mom and Dad and Grandpa know a little bit about that and they’re going to emphasize that to their kid. Success does not come without sacrifice.”
A bright futureNow roughly a week removed from her state triumphs, Wright is still in the process of letting it all sink in. Seven days ago, she was a relative unknown, but now she is a household name among coaches, athletes and even casual track fans.
Looking at pictures of herself that were recently posted on www.co.milesplit.com and thinking of the fact that her name has now appeared in The Denver Post and several other statewide articles, Wright cannot help but smile.
Ever humble and not necessarily eager to laud her own accomplishments, however, Wright kept things close to the cuff when asked about what her future holds.
“At this point, I’m just letting God handle that,” she said. “I didn’t know what to expect coming out for the outdoor track season, and I’m walking away with two good metals, which is amazing. I’ll see what my future holds.”
Regardless of what the coming weeks and months bring, however, one thing can be sure. Avery Wright, the most decorated freshman athlete in M-CHS school history, has already forged a legacy that will never be forgotten.