VISTA — Despite high visibility in this small community, Kira Jorgensen gracefully handles the stardom she has attained as one of the nation's best high school cross-country runners.
Jorgensen just smiles and says "thank you" when people stop to congratulate her after a big victory. Putting on a happy face is not usually much of a problem, but there are times, she says, when the pressure of fending off admirers, maintaining her 3.5 grade-point average, carrying out her duties as junior class president and training every day can get to be a little much.
What does she do then? Most runners talk about "runner's high" or the solace they get from running alone.
Not Jorgensen. She finds relief in noisy gyms at high school volleyball games.
"That's where I unwind," said Jorgensen, 16. "It's nice to just sit there and not have people come up and say, 'Hey, how's running?'
"Doing all the things I'm doing takes up a lot of time. Sometimes, you just have to say, 'That's enough.' I have to make time for myself."
Jorgensen has had to smile and bear the compliments a lot lately. Well-wishers were out in force after she won the San Diego Section meet, the state meet and the Kinney Western Regional meet last weekend in Fresno.
And if things go as expected, things won't change Saturday. Jorgensen is one of the favorites to win the Kinney National meet at San Diego's Morley Field.
It's not hard to understand why everyone wants to compliment Jorgensen. Her success has given Rancho Buena Vista High School recognition in its first year in existence. Plus, those close to her say she's so nice, people can't help but wish her well.
"She gets along well with just about everybody. That's just her. She has that real bubbly personality," said Ed Matheus, who coached Jorgensen at Vista High and decided to switch to Rancho Buena Vista partially because Jorgensen had to transfer there. Jorgensen lives on the side of Vista that was designated as Rancho Buena Vista's district when the schools split this year.
Jorgensen has been one of the best runners in San Diego County since she was a freshman. Although she had not run much before her freshman year, Jorgensen finished sixth in the Kinney regional and 14th at the nationals.
Last season, Jorgensen finished fourth in the Kinney meet. In track, she won the state title in the 1,600 meters (4:45.98) and finished second in the 3,200 (10:30.08) running for Vista High.
"It's a lot of pressure when you do well as a freshman," Jorgensen said. "People expect you to win every year after that. But what happens if you choke one race? Anybody can do that."
Jorgensen has not had to worry about that this season. She has not lost a race since she transferred to Rancho Buena Vista.
She won the 2.4-mile section meet with a time of 14 minutes 7 seconds, then ran a 17:34 for 3.1 miles to win the state meet in Fresno by 14 seconds. She lowered that time to 17:20 last weekend on the same course in the Kinney regional.
The success brought more attention, but she has had some good teachers to help her deal with it. One is miler Steve Scott, the American record-holder who lives in Fallbrook. Scott attends several high school meets a year and encourages promising runners. Since their first meeting, Scott has served as a role model for Jorgensen. But that seemed unlikely when they first met.
"He came up to me and congratulated me on doing well," Jorgensen said. "I looked at him kind of weird and said, 'Thanks.' He said, 'Do you know who I am?' When he told me, I was so embarrassed. I didn't think he would talk to me again.
"He makes me feel embarrassed about that every time he sees me now. But he helps me a lot now, too. He was the only one who knew my goals for running last year. I would give anything to run like him."
Jorgensen said she nearly idolized Laura Chapel of University City and Darcy Arreola of Grossmont when she was a freshman and they were seniors. Chapel and Arreola were two of the best runners in the country that year, and each won state titles, Arreola in the mile and Chapel in the 800 meters.
Although she wanted to run like them, Jorgensen said the most important thing she learned was how to carry herself at meets, how to speak with the media.
Arreola, who now runs at Cal State Northridge, said, "I think she has matured a lot because of running. I see her at meets sometimes, and she seems much more at ease with people."
Chapel and Jorgensen became close friends because they ran on the West team together at the Kinney meet that year. Chapel has been in the same position Jorgensen is in this year, a favorite running on her "home" course.
"I know it is going to be a lot of pressure," said Chapel, who is on the cross-country and track teams at UCLA. "But she won't let it get to her."
If Jorgensen wins at the Kinney, even more people will want to bestow their best wishes upon her, and more near-strangers will throw compliments her way.
What will she do then? High school volleyball season is over.
"I guess I'm going to have to find a winter sport to get into," she said. "Maybe I'll start going to basketball games."