Daily Chronicle 2024 Girls Athlete of the Year: DeKalb’s Korima Gonzalez

DeKalb’s Korima Gonzalez competes in the 3A 800 run Saturday, May 18, 2024 at the IHSA girls state track meet in Charleston.

Korima Gonzalez wanted a school record.

Starting at the end of her junior season in 2023, going under 2:16.45 in the 800-meter run was on her mind. Even as the DeKalb senior qualified for state for the first time in cross country in the fall, she still was thinking about the track record.

Even as she spent the spring battling a hip injury, she still was shooting for the record. And on the biggest stage, she hit the goal.

Gonzalez finished the 800 on the first day of the Class 3A State Meet in 2:15.05, qualifying for the finals as part of an exclamation point on her last year as a two-sport standout for the Barbs.

For all her accomplishments, qualifying for state in cross country and track, Gonzalez is named the 2024 Daily Chronicle Girls Athlete of the Year.

“I’ve always been more of a track person,” Gonzalez said. “So I definitely had my sights set in the 800 relay all throughout the school year. I’m definitely happy to finally be able to get that.”

Gonzalez’s goal for the fall was to qualify for the Class 3A Cross Country State Meet for the first time, setting a personal best mark at the Lake Park Sectional to qualify for Peoria for the first time.

So with one goal down, she headed into the track season looking to break Katherine Olsen’s school record in the 800. But during the indoor season she hurt her hip, which caused her to miss the Top Times Indoor Tournament, the unofficial state tournament for the indoor season.

Mike Wolf, cross country coach for DeKalb, who also coaches distance runners during track season, said they had to come up with a new training regimen for Gonzalez as she battled nagging pain throughout the spring.

“It was so strange, because that was far from what I expected it to be,” Gonzalez said. “At the start of the year I started with dealing with some things and had to sit out some meets. I was hoping with the time off it would get better, but it was really nagging throughout the entire season. So coach Wolf and I sat down and figured out how I could get to the state meet.”

Gonzalez hadn’t broken 2:17.9 in the 800, but on the first day of state went 2:15.05 to take eighth in the prelims and reach the finals.

She finished 12th after posting a 2:20.09 in the finals, failing to collect a third track medal after being a part of the fifth-place 4x400 relay in 2022 and taking eighth in the 800 last season. She had only run the 800 three times before the postseason began, and she said running the race on back-to-back days kind of put her in a different mindset.

“I didn’t feel intimidated, but I knew it was going to be hard on the second day,” Gonzalez said. “My training wasn’t what it was the last couple years. The mileage wasn’t where it normally was. I had some good workouts, but I had been struggling.

“So going into the second day I was just hoping and praying I could get through the race.”

Wolf said Gonzalez added a lot in three years with the program. She spent her freshman year at East Aurora before moving to DeKalb.

“She had some ups and downs, but she did a real good job of just looking at the big picture and staying positive,” Wolf said. “I think qualifying for cross country was really a big accomplishment for her. She already had success on track. That kind of shows her range. It’s a different type of running, type of training.”

That positive attitude was a big benefit this track season, coach Jasmine Kemp said. In her first season as a head coach, Kemp leaned heavily on seniors – including Gonzalez.

“I had a wide range of athletes with different needs and different ways of reasoning to things,” said Kemp, a 2018 graduate of DeKalb. “Korima was very consistent, very forward. Being new, I learned every single practice what I could do better. Being an athlete and then a coach is a huge transition, but I had a lot of help from Korima [and] the other seniors. I couldn’t have done it without them, honestly.”

Gonzalez will run track and compete in cross country at Illinois-Chicago in the fall. She said she loved how diverse the campus is and where it was located in downtown Chicago. She also said the athletes and coaches were welcoming, and she liked the school’s psychology department.

She said she was grateful for her three years in DeKalb.

“The people here are super sweet. They’re the kindest people ever,” Gonzalez said. “I don’t know if it’s the water or the air or what, but the people are very sweet. And just the sense of pride everyone has. There’s just a sense of community and pride, and I just felt immediately welcome even though I hadn’t grown up in DeKalb.

“I felt like I belonged.”

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