According to freedictionary.com, the definition of natural athlete is, “A person possessing the natural or acquired traits, such as strength, agility, and endurance, that are necessary for physical exercise or sports, especially those performed in competitive contexts.”
That sounds about right when considering the freshman cross country campaign had by Richard Montgomery High School's Sophie El Masry. She went from a novice runner to a state title contender in roughly four months.
“She is an extremely talented kid, who doesn't see any limits, which is a very beautiful and refreshing thing to see,” Rockets assistant coach Tom Rogers said. “She doesn't see the course as the limit. She doesn't see time as a limit and she doesn't see a competitor as a limit.
“Some of its naivety because she's so young, but part of it is the way she sees things. I hope it never changes.”
Perhaps the same cannot be said about her competition, which will have their hands full the next three years as El Masry grows into a polished runner. As it was, El Masry, an avid swimmer, placed third or higher in all three championship meets this fall despite not training almost at all over the summer.
“I really didn't have any expectations going into the season,” El Masry said. “I didn't know anything about cross country. I didn't even know how long a race was. It was a whole new experience; I didn't have much to go on.
“I used to run track until I was about 10, but I stopped and started swimming. Going into high school, my friends said I should try out for cross country. My friends told me how much fun it is ... so I tried out and it's been so much fun.”
After battling some injury issues earlier in the season, El Masry took an early lead during the Montgomery County championship meet and eventually finished third (18 minutes, 48.69 seconds) behind the Bethesda-Chevy Chase tandem of Nora McUmber and Caroline Beakes.
“We hadn't seen her too much until the county and regional meets,” Barons coach Chad Young said. “She seems like she's very tough. Right from the beginning, she went out really hard for the county meet; she was winning by a pretty large margin. She came out as a huge surprise.
“She did a great job of establishing herself as one of the top runners in the county [and] she really brought out the best in our girls.”
El Masry, who will compete for the school's swim team this winter before joining the track and field team in the spring, placed third again behind McUmber and Beakes and well ahead of Quince Orchard's Isabelle Latour in a time of 18:22 at the 4A West Region meet.
“She did not do any running over the summer,” Richard Montgomery coach Davy Rogers said. “I think she ran the last three days before tryouts [but] she is so naturally talented. She just doesn't care about what race it is.”
El Masry carried that attitude into the state race, which is annually held on one of the nation's toughest courses at Hereford High School. Davey Rogers, in fact, said she shrugged of her first look at The Dip, a steep ravine that can make or break runners, who must traverse it once in the second mile and then again late in the race.
“When I took her around the course, I said, 'This is The Dip.' She said, 'This is it. It's just a hill,'” Davy Rogers said. “It kind of just showed how she feels when it comes to running [and] she's busted her butt everyday to get better. She's one of those kids who it doesn't matter what she does. It can be swimming or P.E. class or playing volleyball, she'll do everything she can to be the best and it's working out for her.”
El Masry came within a strong finish by Beakes of being crowned the state's best as she raced through The Dip and the rest of the course to the tune of second place in a time of 19:23.0. Beakes, a sophomore in her first cross country season, crossed the finish line in 19:17.4 at the 4A state meet.
Coming so close to victory has El Masry already pondering future cross country seasons.
“I want to have my own title,” she said. “Hopefully, I'll really work toward that and I want to be a team captain and be a role model to freshmen. The seniors [on this year's team] are so awesome. They were really nice. They were my first friends on the team.”