When Baylee Roble first got the letter telling her about the opportunity to compete on another continent, she was skeptical. Surely, it was a scam. Any offer for a freshman in high school to take a trip to Australia had to be to good to be true, right? Now, a little more than a week after getting back from competing down under, Roble can still hardly believe the trip was real.
As a freshman, Roble ran a time of 20:02.29 at the Washington state 1A cross country meet in Pasco and her time was noticed by more people than just those in the state, but the individuals with Down Under Sports contacted her, as well. Down Under Sports works with hundreds of youth around the country to create a unique experience of competing in Australia, New Zealand or even Hawaii as a way to develop athletically and also as a person by gaining self-esteem and new friendships.
While the decision had been made to let Roble go on the trip, the cost of the trip was almost $7,000, so she was quickly working on garage sales and visiting businesses to see if there was any way to raise the funds.
“I was like, ‘It is so far away and it is so much money. This will never happen. I want it to happen, but this will never happen,’” Roble said. “I always wanted to do it. I just never thought I would be able to do it.”
She raised $2,000 in the first 30 days she was fundraising and found a way, with the help of several businesses and family members, as well as a barbecue fundraiser, to pay for the entire trip. The money raised wasn’t the only preparation for the trip. Roble did workouts every day and ran around 40 miles each week to prepare for the competition in July.
Finally, six months after she had first decided to go on the trip, she was sitting down to a plate of unique food in Brisbane, Australia.
“Kangaroo sausage is disgusting,” Roble said. “That was the first and last time I ate it.”
The trip was filled with many other unique experiences in addition to eating kangaroo. Roble was able to swim with sea turtles. After flying over the Great Barrier Reef, she held a koala, learned how to throw a boomerang and even ate at her first Hard Rock Café, but the highlight of the trip was being able to compete alongside thousands of other athletes at the Suncorp Bank 5.7K Challenge as part of the Gold Coast Airport Marathon in Gold Coast, Australia. Roble was one of more than 3,300 individuals to run in the event and the soon-to-be sophomore held her own by running a time of 25 minutes and 12 seconds to place 126 overall and 32 among all females.
“It was so different to run with that many people,” Roble said. “I’ve only ever run with 140 or 200. I’ve never run with 3,000. The elevation is different. You are closer to the ocean and the air is different and the heat and humidity. You could feel the difference.”
She was pleased with her performance, but the best part of the race didn’t have anything to do with her time. One of her favorite memories was a high-five.
“This little girl had her hand out, she was like three, and I gave her a high-five and she was like ‘Mommy, mommy, She gave me a high-five.’ That was my favorite part because I delighted the little kid. I didn’t care about my time after that.”
For the girl who had struggled with plantar fasciitis during track season and forgot her inhaler on the trip to Australia, the trip was a great chance to see how she could conquer adversity and compare herself to other athletes from around the United States. She made friends from more than 15 states as she was one of only four runners from Washington and then, on July 8, she was able to compete with all of the runners who had come as part of the Down Under program in an All-American race.
Roble surprised herself again with a sixth-place finish among all of the female competitors and finishing 12th overall.
“I learned that I am a stronger athlete than I thought to go up against that many people and not do too bad,” Roble said. “I never thought that I could run more than four and a half miles and this process showed me that I can run seven or eight, which opened my eyes because I never pushed myself that hard.”
Although the main competition portion of the trip was over, after the All-American race, Roble was also able to visit Hawaii with the Down Under group on their way back to the U.S. The once-in-a-lifetime trip has only strengthened Roble’s desire to compete internationally as she dreams of one day being a part of the U.S. Olympic team in the 800- and 1,600-meter runs. But, mostly, she hopes to return to Australia next summer with the Down Under group one more time. She will have to run under 20 minutes during the high school season to be considered for an invitation once again.
Baylee is the daughter to Rumona and Wyatte Roble.
“We decided that it was something she needed to do because it was a once in a lifetime experience. … I’m very proud of her,” Rumona said. “It is an honor for her to go, especially as a ninth grader to compete at that level. I think it really opened her eyes to realize that she is a really good runner.”