West Valley senior Naomi Bailey has been spending most of her life helping others and has never been one to seek recognition. Last week, however, she received a huge recognition that was more than well deserved.
Bailey has been named the Alaska Gatorade Player of the Year for girls cross country. It’s the fourth straight year a West Valley runner has won the award with Kendall Kramer winning the previous three years.
“I’m super excited to receive this honor,” said the 5-foot-6 senior. “This has been a super fun team to be a part of. Watching Kendall get this honor helped inspire me and give me drive. It’s just really exciting.
Bailey ran all the way to the Division I State Championship this past season, breaking the course record with a time of 17:56. Bailey was also the winner of the Region VI championship and the Interior Championship.
In addition to her outstanding achievements on the track, Bailey also won the award thanks to her various accomplishments off the race course. Bailey is a youth leader in her church, serves as a mentor for elementary school students, and currently holds a 4.06 GPA in the classroom. Additionally, coach Dan Callahan notes that Bailey has accomplished all of this while maintaining a very active life at home.
“As the oldest of eight children, a number of whom have been adopted, Naomi has been an important caregiver for her siblings and foster children,” Callahan said. “She wishes to do what she can to help her siblings and disadvantaged children in the community succeed. Her parents have modeled this selflessness and Naomi carries it on with her siblings and young children she mentors and leads in youth groups. It is in part this dedication that led to her to remain in Fairbanks to attend the University of Alaska and forego attending college outside Alaska to run Division I cross country and track.”
Bailey was a member of the JV team her freshman year after not having competed in organized running before. By the time her sophomore season came around, she’d already become the second fastest runner on the team behind Kramer, running a season best 19:43 at the state championship meet. Bailey finished third at the state championship meet her junior year, improving her time from the year before by almost a full minute at 18:45.
After the 2020 track season was wiped out due to COVID-19, Bailey returned for the cross country season without Kramer, who graduated the previous spring. She posted career highs all season long and ultimately won state, finishing 30 seconds ahead of the second place finisher. She credits Kramer and the seniors before her for helping her improve each year.
“As a freshman I had no idea what I was doing,” she said. “Seniors were inviting me to be a part of this super strong team. Kendall helped me develop a love for running by showing me what fast really was which inspired me to get my own times down as well.”
Bailey’s parents, Stephen and Hannah Bailey, say they’re proud of all Naomi has accomplished in her running career.
“We are grateful for Naomi’s character and pursuits,” said Stephen and Hannah Bailey via email. “That she has been able to balance a life of service with her love of running and competition. And we are thankful for her faithful coaches — Dan Callahan and others — who have invested greatly into the team these last four years.”
Bailey won’t be running too far from home this fall when she heads to UAF. Still, as she runs toward the next chapter of her life, she wanted to leave behind some words of inspiration for those that will come after her.
“With COVID this past year (the cross country team) talked a lot about the things that truly matter in life,” she said. “COVID has made us all think a lot about identity. Wherever you are in life make sure to be all the way there. Be mindful of what truly matters. Each choice in life echoes in eternity so make sure you love other people because nothing lasts forever.”