Orono High School senior Nora White finishes third in the Class C girls cross country state championship meet Saturday at the Troy Howard Middle School in Belfast. Credit: Courtesy of Glendon Rand

Thursday was a big day for Nora White.

The Orono High School senior signed a National Letter of Intent to accept an academic merit and athletic scholarship to attend Marist College beginning next September.

She plans to study biomedical sciences at the Poughkeepsie, New York, school, but White also plans to continue running track and field as well as resume a cross country career that ended in remarkable fashion just a week ago.

“I think I picked a good school both academically and athletically,” said White, the oldest of Lin and Kari White’s three daughters. “When I visited the school I felt a very good vibe from the coach and the team [members] I met, and in looking at the school academically it fits what I wanted. I wanted a rigorous school.”

What the coaches at Marist may not have known about the 17-year-old White when they first met her was the degree of mental toughness within her, as evidenced this fall by White’s comeback from a stress fracture of the sacrum at the base of her pelvis that sidelined her for most of October.

When she returned to the trails for the Class C state championships, she did so without having run in three weeks but helped Orono win the team title with her third-place finish.

Two weeks later she placed 17th at the New England championships.

“I just wanted her to have a good day and be happy about her performance, and she just does what she does,” said her father, also Orono’s cross country coach, about White’s state meet effort. “It was pretty exceptional.”

Orono High School distance runner Nora White (center) signs her National Letter of Intent to attend Marist College in Poughkeepsie, New York, next fall on an athletic and academic merit scholarship. Joining her during Thursday’s ceremony are (from left) her sister Clara, father Lin, mother Kari and sister Ruth. Credit: Ernie Clark / BDN

Nora White and younger sister Ruth had served notice on the rest of the state’s cross country world back on Oct. 2 when they finished 1-2 at the Maine Cross Country Festival of Champions in Belfast.

Ruth — the newly crowned New England champion — won the girls division of the Festival of Champions in a course-record time of 17:28.46, a mark that bettered the top time from the 2017 New England championships held on the same 3.1-mile route.

Nora was not far behind, her time of 18:09.53 one of the top 25 girls’ times ever turned in on the well-known course that has hosted tens of thousands of runners for major meets during the last two decades.

Even then Nora wasn’t at 100 percent, and she was able to practice for just four days the following week before she was sidelined.  

“I felt it a couple of days before, but at the festival I was running on adrenaline so I didn’t feel it while I was running,” she said. “That next week was when it hit me and by Thursday I could barely walk.”

White remained sidelined for three weeks while her teammates went on to finish second at both the Penobscot Valley Conference championships and the Class C North regional meet.

After multiple orthopedic surgeons evaluated her X-rays, they determined White could run without exacerbating her injury and cleared her to return to the trails.

She returned to competition back in Belfast at the Class C state meet on Oct. 30 and despite not taking a single practice run in three weeks, she trailed only her younger sister and second-place Thea Crowley of George Stevens Academy of Blue Hill across the finish line.

Orono High School sophomore Ruth White (left) greets older sister Nora, a senior, at the finish line after the siblings finished 1-2 in the girls seeded race at Saturday’s Maine Cross Country Festival of Champions in Belfast. Credit: Courtesy of Glendon Rand

“She knew we needed a performance from her that day, and the truth is I don’t know if I’ve ever had an athlete as mentally tough as she was to not run for three weeks and then step on to the starting line and run the race she did, where she was the fifth-fastest runner in the state  [regardless of class] that day,” Lin White said.

Nora’s time of 18:41.39 was barely a half-minute slower than what she ran at the Festival of Champions despite the lack of training, and her performance helped Orono capture the state championship for the sixth time in the last nine years.

“I wanted to do it for my team,” she said. “Those girls worked so hard and I wanted to be out there with them for one last race.”

White went on to finish 17th two weeks later at the New England championships in Thetford, Vermont, in 20:13.3 on a much hillier course than the relatively flat Belfast layout.

“I just took one last race in high school and gave it everything I had,” she said.

White took just as much satisfaction from seeing Ruth cap off her undefeated sophomore season by winning the New England championship.

“I try to just be there for her,” said Nora, who is resting up these days before resuming competition this winter on the Orono swim team. “All I really can do is support her and all of her success. We’re sisters, so at the end of the day I’m going to love her no matter what, and I think it’s pretty cool to have someone like that to train with and be sisters with.”

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Ernie Clark

Ernie Clark is a veteran sportswriter who has worked with the Bangor Daily News for more than a decade. A four-time Maine Sportswriter of the Year as selected by the National Sportscasters and Sportswriters...