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VanderLende receives Gatorade state award

ROCKFORD — State champion Ericka VanderLende of Rockford High School has been named Gatorade Michigan Girls Track & Field Athlete of the Year.

In its 34th year of honoring the nation’s best high school athletes, the award recognizes not only outstanding athletic excellence but also high standards of academic achievement and exemplary character demonstrated on and off the track.

The daughter Forest Park High School graduate Ingrid (Peterson) and Greg VanderLende is now a finalist for the prestigious Gatorade National Girls Track & Field Athlete of the Year.

The 5-foot-10 senior won the 1600-meter run with a time of 4:41.00 and the 3200-meter run in 10:24.57 at the Division 1 state meet this past season. VanderLende also placed second in the 800.

Her season-best time of 9:57.01 in the 3200 is fastest in state history and she won the two-mile at the Brooks PR Invitational in 9:53.00, which ranked as the nation’s No. 1 performance among prep competitors in 2019 at the time of her selection.

VanderLende has participated in service-mission trips with her church to aid the underprivileged. She is the granddaughter of Dave and Arlene Peterson of Crystal Falls.

“Ericka is an incredible runner who has accomplished some astonishing feats,” said Rockford distance coach Ben Watson. “She is totally dedicated to becoming the best she can become.”

VanderLende has maintained a 4.07 GPA in the classroom. She has signed a national letter of intent to compete in cross country and track and field on scholarship at the University of Michigan.

As a part of Gatorade’s marketing platform “Play it Forward,” VanderLende also has the opportunity to award a $1,000 grant to a local or national youth sports organization of her choosing. She is also eligible to submit an essay to win one of 12 $10,000 spotlight grants for the organization of choice.