As the American flag draped across her shoulders, Alexa Efraimson beamed with joy.She couldn’t catch two Ethiopians in the 1,500-meter race July 13, but the 16-year-old from Camas beat athletes from Great Britain, Germany, Kenya, South Africa, Japan, Denmark and China to capture a bronze medal for Team USA at the World Youth Track and Field Championships in Donetsk, Ukraine.
“I’m so tired right now, but this is a really proud moment,” Efraimson said. “This is what I had been training for all year long. For it to all pay off in that moment was really special.”
Dan Efraimson flew from Portland to New York to Moscow to Donetsk to see his daughter compete. Watching her run around the track with other world class athletes sent shivers down his spine.
“You realize these are going to be the next Olympians. They are doing things that you don’t get to see on a regular basis. It’s amazing just to experience that and to realize Alexa is a part of that,” Dan Efraimson said. “This was not just Camas and not just the Evergreen Storm; this was representing your entire country. For her to travel to the other side of the world and find the strength to compete on an international level will always be impressive to me.”
Tigist Gashaw of Ethiopia won the event with a time of 4 minutes, 14.25 seconds. Fellow countrywoman Dawit Seyaum took second place in 4:15.51. Efraimson crossed the finish line in third place with a time of 4:16.07. She held off Great Britain’s Bobby Clay, who had a personal best time of 4:16.41, to secure the bronze medal.
“Alexa was nervous, but I just told her to be herself,” said her personal training coach Mike Hickey. “She ran amazing. In the finals, she competed better than I could have ever imagined her running. She was calm and controlled. She ran like a veteran even though she had never been at that high of a level. We were a long way from Camas.”
Weeks have passed since that moment faded, but it still gives Hickey goose bumps when he thinks about it.
“It was kind of awe inspiring. Not everybody gets that opportunity and she took advantage of it,” Hickey said. “You could see the look of pride on her face as she held up that American flag. All of the emotion came pouring out. ‘I’m here. This is really happening. I get to hold up this American flag. This is such an amazing moment and I hope there are more to come.’”
Alexa Efraimson embodies the American spirit. Her whole life revolves around the next big challenge. Whether it’s a workout or a race, she is determined to give her maximum effort.
“She gives everything she has mentally, physically and emotionally every single time she steps out there,” Dan Efraimson said. “Every workout has to be perfect. Every meal has to be perfect. She has to make sure she gets enough sleep.”
Although Efraimson eats, sleeps and breathes competition, she also loves spending time with her friends and family. Many of her friends are on the Camas High School girls cross country team. These Papermakers are going after a third straight state championship trophy this fall, and they hope to make it back to the Nike Cross National Championships.
“I was able to get close with some of the people on the U.S. team, but our Camas team is so much closer,” Efraimson said. “That just makes me want to train even harder so we can win more championships together.”
Competition runs in the family. Parents Dan and Chantel were swimmers back in high school. Younger sister Jenna runs cross country and track at Skyridge Middle School.
“I’m not sure where [this running bug] came from,” Chantel said. “I think they both just found something they love to do.”
Jenna said Alexa is her role model.
“It’s really amazing watching my sister,” she said. “She’s worked really hard this year. Every race, she got it done.”
Even though Alexa will graduate just before Jenna becomes a Papermaker, she will never leave her sister’s side.
“I’m excited to see her as she continues on her own journey,” Alexa said. “I tell her to chill out and enjoy it. There are a lot of meets. I thought districts was big in middle school. It’s nothing compared to where she could be if she works hard enough.”
Alexa Efraimson vows to work harder than ever to get back on that international stage. She may not win every race, but her parents and coaches want to make sure she never loses her American spirit.
“My hope is that she continues to love the sport and really appreciates those special moments,” Hickey said. “Plan and work hard for the future, but be in the moment. Be excited for every moment that she earns.”
“Our focus is helping her balance this activity so that it doesn’t become all encompassing,” Dan Efraimson said. “She still has a life to live. We want this to be hers and no one else’s.”