The Student News Site of Xavier College Preparatory


The Student News Site of Xavier College Preparatory


The Student News Site of Xavier College Preparatory


The Student News Site of Xavier College Preparatory


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From Xavier’s top runner to Olympic alternate, Jessica McClain inspires

Ellie Hilsabeck
Jessica McClain smiles with Xavier assistant cross country and track coach Vito Perrone. McClain visited the Brophy track on February 14 to speak with current runners following her Olympic Trials success.

From 2006 to 2010 she was Xavier’s star runner. Now she is the next in line for the Olympic team. Jessica Tonn McClain ‘10 placed fourth in the Olympic Marathon Trials on February 3 2024. This was only her third marathon, finishing with a phenomenal time of 2:25:46, about 5 minutes and 30 seconds per mile.

With a fourth place finish, McClain will be the alternate for the Olympic team. She will go to Paris if one of the three women ahead of her are unable to compete. 

According to an article on February 4, 2024 from Runner’s World, writer Cindy Kuzma said, “McClain didn’t show up on many people’s pre-race prediction lists—or for much of the race broadcast. But the Phoenix-based athlete had a top-five finish in mind.”

A primary reason many did not suspect McClain as a front runner is because at the time of her race she was not sponsored, but self-coached. This means she continued her intense training while also managing her professional career. 

McClain is the executive director of the #LoveUp Foundation, and has held this title since February 2023. 

The #LoveUp Foundation is a local organization which focuses on spreading love in the Phoenix community. Radio show host Johnjay Van Es and his co-host Rich Berra founded the #LoveUp movement to help children in the foster care system. Additionally, the #LovePup Foundation finds homes for abandoned dogs. 

McClain used to work in the corporate sector of marketing, but reached out to Van Es to see how she could get involved in the #LoveUp Foundation. McClain advocated for herself, leading to opportunities for a more fulfilling career. 

While at Xavier, McClain was coached by Dave Van Sickle, head cross country coach, and an assistant coach at the time, Jeff Messer. Messer has a PhD in exercise physiology and worked with Van Sickle to teach him the science behind the sport.

Messer and McClain began working together in 2004 while McClain was in middle school. They also continued working together when McClain moved back to Arizona from 2018 to 2020. With his coaching, she achieved personal bests in the 1500 meter, 3000 meter and 5000 meter races.

Although she was originally supposed to attend Saguaro, McClain began working with Van Sickle and Messer and joined the Xavier team in time for her freshman season. 

While McClain was a senior at Xavier, ESPN arrived one day and wrote articles and created video footage about McClain. This occurred in 2010, well before the days of social media buzz.

“This was truly a very fun day and I was really honored, but it was definitely overwhelming,” said McClain. 

McClain’s success in her sport led to unexpected media exposure which was completely new to her; however she recalls having supportive friends, family and coaches during this unprecedented time.

“It was Jessica Tonn Day. ESPN followed her around campus all day,” remembered Van Sickle. 

In addition to this media coverage, McClain was also a finalist for the Heisman High School Scholarship Award her senior year.

After graduating from Xavier, McClain attended Stanford University, the only school she officially applied to. 

“Xavier undoubtedly prepared me athletically and academically for my time at Stanford,” McClain said.

McClain says the academic and athletic schedule she had while in high school is what kept her disciplined for college. 

Like many student athletes at Xavier, McClain struggled with balancing early morning practices, out-of-state races, school work, time with her friends and the desire to attend football games and dances. 

McClain’s advice to current Gator athletes is to “to give yourself grace—you’re not going to figure it out overnight so lean on those around you and understand that you will learn how to balance it all overtime.”

Following her athletic and academic careers at Stanford, McClain trained with the Brooks Beasts. This group of runners live and train near the Brooks headquarters in Seattle.

McClain left the Beasts in 2018 and later took a short break from racing during the pandemic. It was not until she ran and won her first marathon in February 2022 that she decided to resume racing. Mesa Marathon is where she “caught the racing bug again.”

McClain continued to train without a coach or sponsor in the Arizona heat, all while working full time.

She recently signed with Brooks again on March 25. She will continue to live in Arizona and work full-time. In addition to this, McClain makes time to recover from runs and attend physical therapy appointments to keep her healthy, because she may be running in Paris this summer. 

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