When Oregon freshman Katie Rainsberger won the accolade of Gatorade Cross Country Runner of the Year in 2015, she was also awarded a grant of $10,000 by the Gatorade Play It Forward Fund.

The Air Academy High graduate has since directed that money to the Colorado Springs Youth Sports Inc. to benefit the El Pomar Youth Sports Park, a place where she started playing sports in her youth.

“I grew up playing soccer at El Pomar and spent nearly every weekend, and many weeknights, running up and down those grass fields,” Rainsberger said in an El Pomar Youth Sports Park press release. “All the time I spent at the Park inspired me to help pay it forward to the kids who now have taken my place there. Playing there laid the foundation for my athletic career and I hope to help inspire the next generation of youth athletes through this grant.”

Rainsberger started playing soccer when she was 2 or 3 years old. During her soccer days, she bagged the United States Youth Soccer State Cup MVP as a forward in 2012.

Then, she took up running in seventh grade. She was a dual-sport athlete until her sophomore year of high school when she decided to focus on running.

“The reason I started out so strong in running is that I had such a good base from soccer,” Rainsberger said in an interview with the Gazette. “The two sports definitely help each other.”

The Colorado Springs Youth Sports Inc. is an independent nonprofit organization that focuses on building community and youth development through sports. They house multiple sports fields such as baseball, softball, soccer, lacrosse and hockey.

The funds will be used to upgrade the soccer fields at the park to provide a better experience for frequent users such as Pride Soccer, Colorado Rush Soccer and various other groups in the Colorado Springs area.

“We are incredibly grateful for the gift Katie has directed to the El Pomar Youth Sports Park,” Colorado Springs Youth Sports Executive Director Steve Czarnecki said. “Katie is an outstanding young woman and personifies the qualities that youth sports help instill in young people.”

While representing Air Academy, Rainsberger won seven CHSAA state championship titles in the 800, 1,600, and 3,200 meters as well as the 4×800 relay. Last year, she was crowned the Nike Cross Nationals (NXN) champion in a race featuring many of the top runners in the nation, and she was undefeated in the 5,000 meters. She first represented the U.S. in 2014 at the IAAF World Junior Cross Country meet.

Since joining the Ducks this fall, she has emerged as the fastest on the team in four out of her five appearances. So far, she has earned the Pac-12 Freshman of the Year award. At the NCAA Cross Country Championships, she placed fourth, establishing herself as the fastest freshman in the nation as well as guiding her team to its fourth championship title.

“Katie has this kind of maturity where she just kind of knows that it’s a process and she just needs to kind of get better each week and get better throughout her time here at Oregon,” associate head coach Andy Powell said. “She’s okay sitting in the back of the pack with her teammates and finishing strong. A lot of freshmen that have come in and have won a lot of NXN titles, it’s hard for them to understand that. They want to be up in the front. It’s hard to sit back like that.

“But for whatever reason, [Oregon assistant coach Maurica Powell] has been able to help her understand that, ‘Hey, you know, if you can finish X amount of place and not necessarily win it, it’s a big deal.’ And I think she understands that.”

Follow Romaine Soh on Twitter @mainetainpls

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