Athletics High Schools

HIGH ACHIEVERS: Neighbours finish 1-2 for different schools in NCSSAA XC girls’ novice running final

HIGH ACHIEVERS: Stay-Safe Edition
Keeping Local Sport Spirit High During the Pandemic

By Martin Cleary

They’re friends. They’re next-door neighbours. They’re long-distance runners.

But they’re also student-athletes at two different high schools. That’s OK. Isabella Chiumera of St. Pius X and Grace Streek of Merivale have the utmost respect for each other, when it comes to running competitions.

And after last week’s girls’ novice 4,000-metre race during the National Capital Secondary School Athletic Association cross-country running championships at the Hornets Nest, they’re now the two fastest Grade 9 overland runners in the city.

Isabella Chiumera of St. Pius X (right) and Grace Streek of Merivale finished 1-2 in the girls’ novice race. Photo: Dan Plouffe

For the third consecutive meet in October, Chiumera and Streek finished first and second respectively, but this time the latter runner made it a lot closer at the finish line.

Chiumera, who earlier won the Ottawa Lions Track and Field Club-staged Capital XC Challenge girls’ junior varsity race and the NCSSAA’s West Conference title, completed the muddy and slippery city final course in 16 minutes, 40.44 seconds.

If she couldn’t win, Streek wanted to finish within 20 seconds of race favourite Chiumera. She accomplished that goal with a second-place time of 16:47.27. Olivia Chen finished a distant third in 17:51.90 and gave Merivale a second runner in the top three.

“In the past, I have beaten her a lot,” Streek said. “But now she (Chiumera) has improved and has made great strides.”

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That’s what friends, neighbours and distance runners do, respect each other.

“We’re neighbours and supportive of each other,” she added. “In the summer, we hang out, swim and run. We’re definitely friends. There’s no jealousy or mean talk.”

Like all runners, Streek had a plan entering the race and almost all the pieces of the puzzle snapped together.

“My strategy was to stay as close as I can and make a move at the end. I gave it my all. I will start training with Isabella immediately after the snow melts and I’ll win this next year by five minutes,” Streek said with a big smile as she walked away.

Having never run the Hornets Nest course for novice girls, Chiumera arrived more than an hour before her race, which was the opener of the championships, and walked the course so she wouldn’t get lost.

As the tired Chiumera approached the finish line, she was faced with two finishing chutes. The lane on the right was for the first group of starters, which included Chiumera and Streek, and the lane on the left was for the second wave of runners.

Chiumera was drifting towards the second-wave finish chute, when someone directed her towards the other chute. After a moment of confusion, she ran through the proper finish line.

“It went really good. I’m happy I won, but honestly, finally it’s over. I’m tired,” said Chiumera, who was warmed by her parents’ coats and fed fresh strawberries in a quiet celebration.

If it wasn’t for the COVID-19 pandemic, Chiumera may not have been a champion cross-country runner this season. For the past number of years, she has been a swimmer with Swim Ottawa.

“Before qualifying (for the NCSSAA races), I wasn’t that great a runner. I’m a competitive swimmer. When the pools shut (spring, 2020), my older sister (Alivia) and I ran every day,” explained Chiumera, who recently had her first swim race, a time-trial, in many months.

Running during the pandemic also was beneficial for Alivia as she placed 12th in the girls’ senior 6,000-metre race in 28:24.65.

In a normal year, Isabella Chiumera’s high school season would have finished with the Ontario Federation of School Athletic Associations cross-country running championships, which are slated for Saturday in Lakefield, ON.

But the two English and two French school boards in Ottawa decided students should not attend school-related events involving an overnight stay during the pandemic. The NCSSAA is following that ruling and isn’t sending any individual athletes or teams to the OFSAA championships this fall. A decision about the winter and spring OFSAA championships will be made at a later date.

Nepean won the girls’ novice team title with 69 placement points from its top four runners: Miina Wallner (10th in 19:16.07), Charlotte Watchorn (18th in 20:08.46), Molly Barber (20th in 20:15.05) and Sarah Hume (21st in 20:22.11).

Canterbury was a close second at 78 points from Azzurra Agostini (ninth in 18:47.32), Winnifred Unsworth (22nd in 20:39.17), Ainsley Park (23rd in 20:40.04) and Sadie Johnstone (24th in 20:41.24).

Third-place honours went to Merivale with 85 points. The Marauders’ top-four runners were Streek, Chen, Hamda Hussein (39th in 21:42.48) and Elizabeth Riddolls (41st in 21:48.04).

Martin Cleary has written about amateur sports for 48 years. A past Canadian sportswriter of the year and Ottawa Sports Awards Lifetime Achievement in Sport Media honouree, Martin retired from full-time work at the Ottawa Citizen in 2012, but continued to write a bi-weekly “High Achievers” column for the Citizen/Sun.

When the pandemic struck, Martin created the “Stay-Safe Edition” to provide some positive news during tough times, via his Twitter account at first and now here at

Martin can be reached by e-mail at and on Twitter @martincleary.

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