Having won multiple state-championship titles in both cross country and track, recent East Mountain High graduate Alex Heffelfinger makes no bones about the motivation behind him taking up competitive running: a sweet pair of shoes.

“That wasn’t the entire reason,” Heffelfinger said. “But that was a big part of it.”

During his freshman year, Heffelfinger spotted a slick pair of Nike sprinter spikes at Marshalls and his mother told him she’d buy them for him on one condition. “Mom said, ‘I’ll get these for you if you go out for track,’” Heffelfinger said.

So he did.

Ironically, he never once wore the shoes, and his father eventually sold them on eBay, but Heffelfinger’s journey had begun.

In his sophomore year Heffelfinger went out for cross country, and midway through the season, he said he came to a self-realization. “It was like, this is me, running is me, that’s who I am,” he said. “It kind of became central to who I was.”

In 2014 he won two Class 2A state titles in track.

In the fall of 2014, the New Mexico Activities Association moved East Mountain up to Class 4A, pitting the Timberwolves against larger schools and stiffer competition.

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East Mountain graduate Alex Heffelfinger finished his high school career with seven state championship gold medals, the second-most in school history. Photo by G. Demarest.

Heffelfinger responded by winning back-to-back state titles in cross country and claiming three more gold medals in track.

He’s won seven state-championship gold medals in all—the second-most in school history—and he holds school records in track for his times in the 800-meter, the 1600-meter, and the 3200-meter races.

“I’m not the most decorated [at East Mountain] but it’s a pretty good legacy to leave behind,” he said.

Heffelfinger’s accomplishments reached a pinnacle two weeks ago when he won the Class 4A state championship in both the 1600-meter and 3200-meter races, and took the silver in the 800-meter.

During his 3200-meter victory—a race commonly referred to as the 2-mile—he led for six of the eight laps and won by a commanding margin.

He said that race is a good representation of how he’s grown as a competitive runner.

“I’ve never won the 2-mile, but that’s not what’s significant,” Heffelfinger said. “I’ve never won by that much, I’ve never been that dominant. I dominated the 32, and I led it, and I’ve never led a race at state in track, and it terrifies me, and I was able to overcome that and do really well, that’s what stands out.”

Now Heffelfinger is training with former East Mountain teammates for next week’s Great Southwest Track and Field Classic in Albuquerque, where he’ll run the steeplechase race “just for fun,” and then after a brief respite, he’ll start preparing for the next phase of his life: a college running career.

He’s been awarded academic and athletic scholarships to attend Gonzaga University in Spokane, Wash.

“It’s an amazing school and the team and the coach are a perfect fit,” he said, noting that he’d like to continue competing in the steeplechase at Gonzaga. “I really enjoy it. It takes a certain kind of runner because it’s kind of a cross-track hybrid.”

Reflecting on his high school running experience, Heffelfinger said, “It’s been an incredible journey.”

He said he owes a lot to his coaches Dave Naylor and Phil Keller in cross country and track, respectively.

“Naylor’s always in high spirits, and Keller’s done so much for me, he’s such a fantastic mentor,” he said.

But Heffelfinger said he’ll miss his former teammates the most. “I felt more connected to the team than I have ever felt in my life. In cross, especially the guys, the team was tighter than any team I’ve ever been on. The team was like my family.”

Ger Demarest
Ger Demarest

Ger has been writing and shooting photos of high school sports for The Independent for 15 years. His dedication to youth athletics goes beyond sports reporting. He is past president of East Mountain Little League and works as a baseball umpire. He lives in Edgewood with his family.