No limits for star Ravens runner
By Grant Lucas
Albert Hesse has come quite a way — and from quite far away.
As a freshman in Idaho, Hesse’s best 5,000-meter time was 16 minutes, 54 seconds. Now a junior at Ridgeview, Hesse — blending his strength with his fluid gait, like artists combine colors to create masterpieces — has lowered that personal record by nearly a full minute, to 15:56.1.
In 16 meets spanning his first two years of high school, Hesse recorded seven top-10 finishes with one win. This season, in five races, he has not finished outside the top 10, has four top-five finishes and has three victories, including a jaw-dropping 32.1-second win earlier this month at the Juniper Preview in Redmond, a meet that served as the appetizer for Friday’s Intermountain Conference championships on the same Juniper Golf Course.
Hesse still speaks with a slight accent. He assures he has lost all of his Russian accent, but it still creeps up every so often.
He was born in the Eastern European country of Ukraine, learned how to write Ukranian in cursive but spoke and printed in Russian. At 9 years old, he was adopted by an American couple, Jennifer and Michael Hesse. The family lived in Colorado and Idaho before moving to Redmond two years ago.
Of course, assimilating to a new country was difficult for Hesse. New language. New schools. “It was not as easy as for everybody else,” he says.
Hesse’s story is one of great fortune. He lived in an orphanage in southeastern Ukraine, in an area where social unrest would lead to a war just a few years after Hesse was adopted. “He didn’t have much of a future over there,” says Mike Hesse, Albert’s father. “With all the drugs and crime and things like that (in Ukraine), we could definitely give him a better home and better opportunities.”
“We like to think that we are really lucky and that we kind of won the lottery with Albert,” adds Jennifer Hesse, the principal at Vern Patrick Elementary School in Redmond. “Some kids come with a ton of issues. Albert just adapted and is full-on American. He doesn’t forget (where he came from), but he’s happy where he is.”
Albert, his birth name, knew only a few English words at the time he was adopted, which occurred just a few months before Jennifer gave birth to the parents’ lone biological child, Luke. Hesse, though, was quick to pick up the language, much as he has adapted to cross-country — and how quick he was to make a name for himself.
Hesse began running cross-country in sixth grade in Colorado. He enjoys other sports, like basketball and skiing. He still participates in those activities, but cross-country trumps all.
“I just felt like I wasn’t built for other sports,” says the 6-foot, 150-pound Hesse. “I mean, I’m good at them. But I’m a tall, thin boy.”
He also boasts a playful-yet-competitive personality. He likes to “dink around,” as he puts it, during the season, which includes outings to shoot hoops now and again. He also enjoys pranks — pulling them frequently enough to drive Ravens coach Dru Carpenter a bit nuts at times. Once, Hesse grabbed a spare pair of crutches from the Ridgeview athletic training room and feigned injury as he met with his team for practice. Carpenter recalls another time looking out at her squad training at the school’s football field and seeing her star runner walking tightrope style along the backrests of a row of bleachers in the grandstands.“It’s that playful nature,” Carpenter says. “That invincible nature.”
Hesse, though, can flip the switch when necessary — and he has done it often this season.
He is a student of the running craft that he is seemingly on the verge of mastering. Hesse studies the sport, reading the different philosophies and thoughts on cross-country training. Carpenter notes how he has certain ideals that apply more than others, though he welcomes suggestions that could mold him into an even more dominant runner. Carpenter adds that Hesse is extremely self-disciplined when it comes to meeting pace times during training sessions — all the while knowing, as the strongest runner on his team, that he is his own stiffest competition.
“It’s very mature, I believe, for a high school runner,” Carpenter says. “I’m sure all the teams have a person like that. The fact that he can be that serious yet be such a young person and have fun brings another special, unique twist to it. A lot of times, you kind of worry about that super-serious person, that they’re not enjoying it, that they might be missing some fun times during their high school years. But Albert’s taking advantage of it.
“He’s been very influential as far as raising everyone’s expectations,” Carpenter adds of Hesse, whose time of 15:56.1 ranks fifth in Class 5A so far this season. “He’s supportive of the other guys, encouraging them. Having his example and his times, at first, some of them were in awe. It’s like, ‘Wow!’ But they realize that he does work for it. I think that encourages them to work harder, too, to see that they can move and become better.”
Hesse is soft-spoken and modest. He is unwilling to acknowledge any sort of hype surrounding his cross-country accomplishments. He simply wants to say he has improved (that two-minute drop in his personal-best time and his school records at the 2-mile and 5,000-meter distances would convince anyone else). And he prefers to look ahead.
Instead of noting what times he has met, he points to times still to be had. He longs for the carrot to drive him forward, whether it is his parents bribing him with running shorts or sunglasses to meet certain times, or, even better, when there is a state powerhouse program just down the highway.
“Since I came to this school, everybody’s always upset that Summit’s always winning,” says Hesse. “I made it my goal to be somewhat better than them.”
Last season, his first with Ridgeview, Hesse finished sixth at the Intermountain Conference championships and went on to place 18th at the 5A championships — the best finish at state by a Ravens runner in the program’s then four-year history. As he and the rest of the IMC get ready for the district championships, Hesse is determined to continue his rise. After all, at this point, he says he has yet to prove himself. That would mean there are ceilings to limit his progression.
He smiles and shakes his head at the thought.
“I want to keep going,” he says. “I don’t want a limit.”