Joy Ripslinger has been the first person across a lot of finish lines in her high school career.
Next month, she'll get the chance to break the tape at the Quad-City Times Bix 7.
Ripslinger was announced Wednesday as the 14th Isle Casino Beat the Elite challenger in a news conference at the Isle Hotel and Casino in Bettendorf. She will be given a predetermined head start along the seven-mile course, and if she crosses the finish line before any of the elite runners, she will be awarded with $2,500 that will be donated to an organization of her choosing.
In years past, the contestant was chosen at random from all early entries, but with the Arconic's Jr. Bix celebrating its 20th anniversary this year, race director Ed Froehlich wanted to select someone who had run in that event in the past.
"I’m absolutely honored. It’s a publicized thing and I wouldn’t expect that I’d be someone they’d choose for this," Ripslinger said. "It’s pretty cool, you don’t usually see a high school kid … so it’s kind of a unique opportunity."
Ripslinger wasn't sure when she first ran in the Jr. Bix, either when she was 6 or 7, but it left an impression.
"That was my first running experience ever," Ripslinger said. "The Jr. Bix kind of made me realize that running was something I liked extra special. Something about competing, running against the other kids, I wanted to win. I never won, I never got the little balloon but every year I came back and that was my incentive, to beat all the other girls or beat all the other boys."
That simple start has led to great things for Ripslinger. The Quad-City Times Female Athlete of the Year has won nine Iowa state titles and holds Class 3A meet records in the 800, 1,500 and 3,000. She became the first girl in Iowa to win the 400, 800, 1,500 and 3,000 events this past spring at the Iowa state meet, helping lead Assumption to an unprecedented fifth straight state title.
She has won seven flags at the Drake Relays, finished seventh in the 800 at the New Balance Outdoor National track and field meet in Greensboro, North Carolina last Sunday and anchored the 1,600 medley relay that won a national title at the New Balance Indoor National track and field meet in March.
"That's what we want to accomplish, that they start out with the Jr. Bix and then develop into running the Bix 7, but to go to that level is just tremendous," Bix race director Ed Froehlich said. "I'm predicting in four or five years, Joy Ripslinger will win the entire female division of the Bix 7."
Ripslinger was on her college orientation visit at the University of Arkansas two weeks ago when she got the phone call asking her if she'd like to take on the challenge. It was an easy decision.
"It caught me off guard, I had no clue it was a possibility and I couldn't say no to the offer," she said. "It was a pretty cool offer."
Ripslinger has run in the Bix 7 since the summer after eighth grade, finishing last year in 54 minutes, 1 second. That time will be used to determine her starting position along the course. Last year's challenger, Nancy Van Hemert, was given a three-mile head start, but it's likely Ripslinger will be given much less.
"I wouldn't say I do long distance training technically. I definitely incorporate mileage into my training but I don't train specifically for over 3,000 meters," Ripslinger said. "If I keep in shape until the end of July, I'm usually able to put a pretty decent time down. I wouldn't say I'm in my tip-top shape at that point but it's a good thing for me to keep on running throughout the summer and have that fun Bix race."
Ripslinger is running her last high school event this weekend at the USATF Junior Outdoor Nationals in Sacramento, California. After that, she'll spend some time recovering before preparing for the new challenge at the Bix. After that, it's off to start her college career with the Razorbacks.
"I guess this Bix race will be my last bang here in the Quad-Cities," Ripslinger said. "I'm pretty excited to have that be, it's a pretty special thing, to finish the career off here. It will be a lot of fun."
Because of NCAA regulations, Ripslinger cannot keep the money if she wins, but can donate it to an organization of her choosing.
"I'm not sure what I'm going to do yet. It can't go to me so it's either an organization or a program," Ripslinger said. "Still thinking, talking to my parents and coaches about something I'm passionate about that I'd like to give back to."