Profile: Despite challenges, Cookie Baugh keeps running – and smiling all the way to the finish line

Cookie Baugh always seems to be smiling. Maybe it’s her personality or maybe she just has a lot to be smiling about. It’s probably a little bit of both.

Baugh, the talented senior runner for the Pioneer girls’ cross country team, certainly had plenty to smile about last Saturday afternoon at Michigan International Speedway. She had just finished 12th in the MHSAA Division 1 State Finals at MIS and helped lead her team to its third straight D-1 State title.

While talking about her and her team’s incredible accomplishments, something made her think about the finish line – and not the one she had just crossed a few minutes earlier. It was a much bigger finish line and suddenly that smile was joined by tears.

See WLAA photo gallery – STATE FINALS

See WLAA photo gallery – REGIONALS

“It’s emotional,” she said, looking over at her joyous teammates celebrating only a few feet away. “It’s starting to hit me that it’s my last race with this team. And I’m getting teary-eyed thinking about it. It’s such a very special team to be a part of. I can’t thank my coaches and teammates enough. I just love them to death. We are so lucky to have each other.”

So, right there in one simple sound clip, is why Cookie Baugh is always smiling.

As a sophomore, Baugh ran fourth at Regionals and 32nd at the State Finals. Last year as a junior, Baugh was third at Regionals and placed fifth at the D-1 State Finals with her high school best time of 18:10.8. She ran her best time of 17:51.3 the following week at the Michigan Meet of Champions.

Baugh’s senior season didn’t go as planned. But maybe the challenges made her stronger at the end.

“I was sick the first part of the season with an infection in my lungs and it was a rough start to the season, but my coaches and teammates were so supportive and helped me through it,” she said. “I’m so thankful to them for that support.”

She didn’t complete the first SEC Jamboree but came back strong with a season-best time of 18:14.9 at Saturday Nights Lights in Ohio on Oct. 2. After crossing in the top 10 in both the Portage CC Invitational and the Freeland Falcon Invite, Baugh took fifth at the SEC Championship and seventh at Regionals.

She capped off her final run as a Pioneer with her 12th place finish time of 18:16.6, less than 2 seconds off her best time.

And, more importantly, helped her team cross the finish line in first. And while Baugh appreciates the support of her teammates, it’s certainly a two-way street for the Pioneers.

“We train a lot together and I have so much respect for her,” said Rachel Forsyth, Baugh’s teammate who finished first on Saturday. “She always pushes me to do my best.”

Baugh isn’t certain about where she will run next. She’s been too busy focused on this team to worry about her next team.

“I’m hopefully going to decide soon,” she said. “It’s been a rough couple of weeks so now that it’s behind me, it’s time to start thinking about what’s next. Everyone has been really supportive and all the coaches I’ve been talking to have been great. I’m just grateful for the opportunities that I have.”

She does know exactly what she wants to study – Kinesiology, the scientific study of human body movement.

“I’ve been working with the same physical therapist since my freshman year and she’s great and through that experience it’s something I’ve always been interested in. And she’s also a runner too so that helped get me interested into going into that field of study.”

Knowing what you want to do with your life is enough to put a smile on your face.

See WLAA photo gallery – STATE FINALS

See WLAA photo gallery – REGIONALS