9-year-old runs nearly 15 miles spanning over 10,000 feet in elevation in mountain races


Monitor staff

Published: 09-22-2023 4:50 PM

How does running four miles 2,000 feet up a mountain sound?

Daunting? Exhausting?

To 9-year-old Etta Noreika, it sounded thrilling.

With a Turkey Trot 5K last November already under her belt, she asked her dad, Michael, if she could tag along with him on the Sunapee Scramble at the end of April, a four-mile trek up Mount Sunapee.

“It was like, ‘Ooh boy...you sure?’” said Julia Noreika, Etta’s mother. “She did the Sunapee Scramble, and she loved it.”

With both Julia and Michael avid trail runners – Julia noted that Michael is definitely the more intense runner of the two – Etta grew up surrounded by running. Still, for a 9-year-old to participate in a race like this is no small feat, especially with not much training beforehand.

The family lives at the bottom of Mount Kearsarge in Wilmot, so they hike up its trails pretty regularly. Besides that, Etta showed up on race day and took off. She enjoyed the April event so much that she wanted to participate in the rest of the Delta Dental Mountain Challenge series. There was a $100 prize for the youngest person to run in at least four events that she wound up winning. The second-youngest person to participate in the series was a 22-year-old.

On June 3, she ran 3.7 miles and 2,300 feet up Mount Ascutney in Vermont. On June 24, she climbed 3,500 feet and 2.75 miles in Race the Cog up Mount Washington. And on Aug. 27 in the Race to the Top of Vermont, she ran 4.3 miles and climbed 2,564 feet in elevation.

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In all, she totaled 14.75 miles and 10,264 feet in elevation.

“She never complained about being tired,” Julia said. “We haven’t pushed her. In fact, I’m a physical therapist, and I’m like, if she’s 9 years old, I’ll let her do what she wants, but I’m not going to push her body to do any more than what she’s motivated to do.”

As it turned out, she was motivated to do quite a lot.

Amber Ferreira, who lives in Concord, has completed 70 half and full Ironman triathlons, racing at the professional level. She also participated in several of the events Etta ran in. Ferreira knows well how much training can go into any of these. For Etta to not train much, yet manage to show up and plow through the finish at four different events left even a seasoned runner in awe.

“It’s not common, and that’s why I think her story is really amazing,” Ferreira said. “Just to have the muscular strength at that age I think is really impressive.”

Oh, and the weather conditions during some of these runs can’t be ignored either. The end of the Sunapee Scramble featured hail, rain and chilly temperatures. That didn’t deter Etta.

“Of course she comes charging up the hill with a huge smile on her face,” Julia said. “She’s my daughter, and I was still surprised at how much she enjoyed it.”

The Noreikas have tried recruiting some of Etta’s friends to participate in future races. They’ve had no such luck. That’s not all bad news, though.

“She wants to be the youngest person to do it again next year,” Julia said.

And she’s not planning to stop there. Etta’s already explored U.S.A. Track & Field’s New England Mountain Running Circuit, a 10-race series across the region. She’s planning to participate in some of those events in addition to the Delta Dental Challenge.

“If she sticks with it, she has a bright future,” Ferreira said. “She tackled some very technical and steep courses.”