Rifle’s Jonny Hernandez places 50th out of 3200 runners at Down Under Sports games | PostIndependent.com

Rifle’s Jonny Hernandez places 50th out of 3200 runners at Down Under Sports games

Jonny Hernandez took the valley by storm in last fall's cross country season, turning in a tremendous freshman season at Rifle High School, capping it off with an 83rd-place finish in the 3A state cross country meet.

Hernandez then competed in track and field for the Bears during the spring season, making a name for himself as a distance runner. But the then-freshman made his mark on the valley as a cross-country runner.

Through cross country, Hernandez earned a bid to the 2018 Down Under Sports games, where he represented Colorado on the Team USA cross country squad, thanks to a push from Rifle cross country coach Kyle Mickelson, encouraging him to make the jump onto the international stage.

At the competition, which was held June 26-July 5, Hernandez turned in a 50th-place performance in the Gold Coast Marathon, which, despite the name, was closer to a 5K. He clocked a time of 21 minutes, 25 seconds, good for the 98th percentile in a race with 3,212 runners.

Aside from placing 50th in the world, Hernandez was the 47th-fastest male, and 36th-fastest male aged 15-17.

Hernandez did a great job of representing not only Colorado, but the Rifle community and the Roaring Fork Valley as well. Without the support of his hometown and county, Hernandez likely wouldn't have been able to make the trip.

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Through fundraisers, such as a car wash, and donations to Hernandez's GoFundMe and Down Under Sports pages, Hernandez raised more than $3,100, covering more than half of the $5,800 trip.

While in Australia, Hernandez had the chance to work closely with 2016 Team USA Paralympic Games champion Liz Willis, who had her left leg amputated below the knee in 2010 due to complications from Crohn's Disease that affected her pregnancy at the time. Through his work with Willis, Hernandez gained a ton of experience and motivation, setting a goal to one day be able to compete in the Olympics as a member of Team USA.

"Jonny knows that will take a lot of training and dedication," Hernandez's mother, Jessica, said. "But he is ready and willing to compromise. The Australia experience was great for him, getting a chance to compete with thousands of people all over the world."

Along with Hernandez, Jason Joslin of Salida also competed in the Gold Coast Marathon.

Down Under Sports was founded in February 1989 based upon the dream of George O'Scanlon, a New Zealander. According to Down Under Sports' website, O'Scanlon fell in love with athletics, especially American football, as a young man growing up in his native country of New Zealand. His desire over the years has been to promote football, not only to the people of New Zealand, but also to Australia, where he lived for many years.

Through that love, O'Scanlon formed the Down Under Bowl, which eventually led to the establishment of the Down Under Hoops Classic and the Down Under International Games. The Down Under Sports programs use the common language of sports to bridge the continents and provide a forum for athletes from around the globe to compete head-to-head in the sport they love. During the past 29 years, Down Under Sports has had the opportunity to share the land down under with tens of thousands of individuals from across the United States.

Hernandez is back in state, where he's currently training for the upcoming cross country season with the Bears.