The top young running stars around the country descended on Des Moines, Iowa, for the 2023 AAU Junior Olympics July 29-Aug. 5. For 8-year-old June Henry, one of Riverdale’s own, the stars aligned for a sixth-place finish in the 800-meter Under-8 event.
June has had a Summer for the ages before starting third grade at P.S. 81. She does not run for a track program on a local level. Instead, her father, Clai, takes on the responsibility of training the running prodigy.
Her competitive debut came in early June during district qualifiers in Queens. After a top-18 finish there, June continued her success in July with a top-six showing in the regional round in Albany.
That set the stage for her eye-opening performance on Aug. 2 in Iowa. Her time in the 800 meter was 2:57.95 which put her on pace for a sub 6-minute mile. The top time in the nation was just five seconds faster.
“It was a fun experience,” June told The Riverdale Press. “I had never been to Iowa.”
The trip set up an unforgettable 24 hours for June. The father and daughter boarded a flight to Iowa, and June ran the race the next day before going home in quick succession.
June noticed one difference in her running experience over 1,000 miles away.
“It wasn’t as bumpy as the tracks that we usually do,” June said.
She and her dad do their own route during the week. Once the alarm sounds, she knows it’s go-time. Then, after 30 or 40 minutes of training, it’s time for school.
Clai says it is a rinse and repeat cycle for June, which requires her to be “motivated and focused” while balancing it all with school.
“She motivates me to run and sometimes she paces me,” says Clai, who took up marathon-running.
June gets her time to run every weekend in the runner’s haven that is Van Cortlandt Park. Between the track and the famed cross country course, referred to as “Vannie” in cross country circles, June has a world of opportunity essentially in her backyard.
“I think it is my favorite track to go to,” June says of the park where she does speed work.
June has two sporting heroes who too reside on the track. Standard operating for the Henry household is watching Sydney McClaughlin, the world record holder in 400-meter hurdles and whose parents both attended nearby Manhattan College, as well as two-time Olympic gold medalist and compatriot Athing Mu.
Watching McClaughlin and Mu at the 2024 Summer Games in Paris as expected cannot come soon enough for the precocious athlete. June says “her biggest goal for the future” is to one day make the Olympics.
“Ever since the last Olympics ended I have been looking forward to it,” June says.
At eight years old, June’s results need no further explanation. Nowadays, she is excited to catch up with her friends and have fun being a kid.
“In July I went to camp with one of my friends, but I haven’t seen them since the race yet,” June said.
And on the horizon, she has a new sort of challenge — tackling third grade at P.S. 81.
“I really like going to school because I have a learned a lot there since kindergarten.”