VERONA, NJ - A Verona athlete is not only a valuable teammate and talented runner, but also an inspiration and motivator for her younger teammates. That is why Olivia Fiore is TAPinto Verona/Cedar Grove’s Hillbilly Athlete of the Week.

“I feel honored to be recognized for the achievements I've accomplished,” Fiore said. “It feels nice to know that I have been working hard and showing people what I can accomplish.”

The high school junior runs the 400m, 4x100m relay, 4x200m relay, 4x400m relay, and the sprint medley relay and competes in the long jump. In her time at Verona High School, Fiore has competed in numerous championship meets and was most recently part of the first place sprint medley team at the Essex County Relay Championships. That meet has been a highlight of Fiore’s season, she said.

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“We don't normally run well in this meet because our fierce competitors -- like West Orange, Livingston, Glen Ridge and West Essex -- deliver the best of the best,” Fiore said. “However, my teammates Briana Rigney, Chelsea Gruskin, Kate Ashley and I were able to push through in the sprint medley relay and won the gold that night. It was a great feeling to earn those medals that night. It showed Essex County that we are a force to be reckoned with and we have the strength to keep up with everyone else.”

It is Fiore’s dedication, versatility and ability to perform at a high level that has made her a valuable teammate for the past three years, Coach Gene Leporati said.

“However, Olivia is more than just a superb athlete on our team; she is a wonderful mentor for our younger athletes. She is always willing to assist, support and encourage any of her teammates when the moment arises,” Leporati said. “As such, Olivia is very much admired and respected by her teammates and our coaching staff.”

The Hillbillies have been having a great season so far, even winning first place in the girls division at the Twinboro Relays. Even with the majority of the team being freshmen, Fiore said the girls have been making noticeable improvements.

With such a large team this year, the Hillbillies moved up a division, which Fiore said has been a challenge. For her personally, Fiore said her challenge has been working harder to improve.

“Personally, I have to work a lot harder to improve and keep up with the other girls so that I can inspire incoming freshman that hard work pays off,” Fiore said. “But, it all pays off in the end.”

Fiore’s hard work has surely paid off since joining the team as a freshman. Her accolades in her track career include long jumps of 16 feet, a 400m time of 1:02 and being part of the 4x100m relay team that set a new school record last spring.

Even with an impressive record, Fiore hopes to improve on her long jump record and have fun while doing it. She also hopes the Hillbillies continue to connect, succeed and have fun as a team.

“My goals for this season are pretty simple: work hard, run hard and have fun while doing that,” Fiore said. “It has always been my mantra ever since I started running recreational track.”

When Fiore first started running track in third grade, she said it was her goal to be faster than the boys. Now though, she just wants to keep growing as a runner and enjoy the sport that she loves.

“It's an escape for me. Although there may be those ups and downs during a practice or a meet, they are the times that help me grow as a runner, as a student and as a team player,” Fiore said. “Strengthening myself, emotionally and physically, as well as helping others is a great feeling and I want to feel that way for the rest of my life.”