Emma Bates 

Athlete of the year

Sure, the Bronco football team is returning to the national limelight when it competes in the Fiesta Bowl on New Year's Eve, but the most successful athlete at Boise State, by far, in 2014 was Emma Bates. The 22-year-old senior was crowned champion in the 10,000-meter race at the NCAA championships in June (the first woman to win an NCAA outdoor track title at the school), named the Mountain West Conference female student-athlete of the year and earned All-American honors—more than any other Bronco track and field athlete in history.

So it was a rare opportunity for her to sit still long enough for a year-end conversation with Boise Weekly to talk about her phenomenal year and her hopes for the future.

I've heard that both your folks are fine athletes.

Dad was a bull-rider and played football in Texas and mom was a runner. I started running when I was little.

But kids aren't usually running cross-country. Aren't they usually sprinting?

I started sprints in sixth grade but mom thought I should run cross-country because I had so much pent-up energy. I was very hyper and couldn't pay attention in class. I started cross-country in seventh grade and it definitely calmed me down.

But you're from Minnesota, where you can't run outside a good portion of the year.

So I took up cross-country skiing.

Is that why you didn't end up going to the University of Minnesota?

I remember first visiting Boise State. It was February and it was zero in Minnesota and 30 degrees here, and I thought it was quite pleasant. I was in a T-shirt and shorts.

Is that why you're in Idaho?

Boise State offered a great financial aid package, but I also liked being away from home. I'm very close to my family, but I was anxious to get a sense of self.

Take us back to your incredible 10K run this past June at the NCAA indoor track and field championships. I'm curious how you celebrated your win.

We had U.S.A. nationals two weeks later, so I was pretty focused and in bed on time. And I always have the same post-race meal: margherita pizza, a coke and vanilla bean ice cream.

How is it practicing at Boise's elevation?

I can definitely feel it when I come back to Boise from Minnesota.

And you practice in the Boise Foothills, yes?

Every day. And on Saturdays, the team does 16 miles up to Bogus Basin.

And Sundays?

My boyfriend and I love going to the Sawtooths. Sometimes we hike, sometimes we run. This past summer, we hiked 11 miles into the Sawtooths and then ran about 15 miles a day. We were up about 10,000 feet.

Let's talk about the future.

I try to focus on the here and now. I would love to see myself at the Olympics in 2016 or 2020, probably in the 10K or the marathon.

But to do something like that, you must have very specific goals for 2015.

The U.S. Cross-Country Championships are in Boulder, Colo., in February and the 2015 [International Association of Athletics Foundations] World Outdoor Championships are in China in August.

Has your life changed much since your national championship run?

It has and it hasn't. People tend to forget pretty quickly.

I promise you that we haven't forgotten your achievement.

But there's always another race.

But that moment must give you great confidence.

I know that I can run faster than a lot of the girls I'm competing against. I'm friends with a lot of my competitors.

A lot of champion athletes would probably tell you that it's not always advisable to be friends with your opponent.

I know; our coach definitely says that. But there is so much camaraderie with someone when you're out there running 25 laps with them.

Do you have a sense of what a big deal your NCAA championship was to Boise State?

Not really. I'm told that some visiting recruits say they want to meet me or come to Boise State because I'm here. I just don't get it.

But your success is a tangible benefit to the university. It must have been a particularly satisfying moment when you stepped out on the blue turf at Albertsons Stadium during a recent football game and received a huge ovation.

It was overwhelming. I didn't realize people cared that much about track. It was very touching.

Have you experienced the moment when a young girl tells you that they want to be like you?

I've heard of a few who have said that, mostly over social media. I think they're too nervous to talk to me.

But that will most certainly happen.

I love talking to people who are motivated or inspired by me. That's amazing.

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