The last Doperalski
MICHIGAN CITY — From the time she was 5, Katherine Doperalski has been going to Michigan City cross country meets.
“It’s always been in my life,” the Wolves senior said. “Growing up, (my brothers) all ran. I remember when I was little, I’d wear a Michigan City shirt and I’d go cheer for them. I saw how much they loved it and thought I’d love it if I joined.”
Some 13 years later, the spikes are on the other foot. The youngest of four siblings, Doperalski is in her fourth and final season running for City and it’s her brothers Ryan, Evan and Logan doing the cheering.
“I love the idea of them coming to watch me,” Katherine said. “I did it for them and now they’re doing it for me. It’s just the whole racing part of it. They talk to me, calm me down before the race, get my mind intact. They’ve taught me when to go, how to pace myself. If I have a bad race and get down about it, they’ll reassure me, tell me it’s only one race, you’ve got next weekend. It’s pretty cool.”
Mike Liss has coached all four Doperalskis, remembering attributes of each one. Ryan, a 2008 graduate, was part of the sectional champion and state finals team in 2007. Evan, a 2012 grad, was an upper-tier finisher in the Duneland Athletic Conference and Logan, a 2015 grad, was a clutch performer, coming through when the team needed him the most. Only one year (2011) did any of them run on the same team, when Evan was a senior and Logan a freshman.
“They’re just really neat, All-American kids, a hard-working, blue-collar Michigan City family,” Liss said. “They’re no superstars. They’re just steady as rain. Katherine grew up with cross country and she puts her heart into it.”
There was a time when the youngest Doperalski wasn’t sure her heart was into it.
“In sixth grade, I thought I had to do it,” she said. “After the first couple meets, I fell in love with it and kept going.”
Not that it was ever easy or always fun. In her first high school race as a ninth grader, Doperalski walked a portion of the 3.1 miles and finished in 31-plus minutes.
“I was a little out of shape,” she said. ”(My brothers) were there and they just said I need to go for it, that I can’t walk anymore.”
Katherine took some grief over it from the boys, but it goes with the territory of being the youngest, not to mention the only girl.
“It’s definitely been tough love, but I’ve definitely grown from it,” she said. “I learned a lot of toughness, how to act, how to be involved in sports.”
Progress has been slow but sure for Doperalski, who has gradually worked her way into the 24-minute range and a scoring position for the Wolves. Like her brothers, she has been a team captain, being named to the role for the second time this season.
“She’s like a mother to the team,” Liss said. “She’s always had that quality. She has her own unique personality. She likes to critique how I dress. She’ll call me out when she doesn’t like what I’m wearing. We have a good rapport where we can banter. She’s just always fun to be around.”
Leadership is a role Doperalski takes seriously, knowing personally the importance of having a voice of experience (or three) to guide her.
“I’ve always liked to be captain, like my brothers were,” she said. “I took it to heart. I try to tell the newbies, as long as you finish, you’ve already done something good. I know they’re nervous, freaking out, so I talk with them, get their minds straight.”
With no more Doperalskis behind her, Katherine knows this season’s the end of the line and she wants to put on an exclamation on the final chapter of the family’s Michigan City cross country story. Katherine plans to attend IU South Bend and possibly continue running there. She will study criminal justice, again following in her brothers’ footsteps. Logan is majoring in the same field, Ryan is with the La Porte County Sheriff’s Department and Evan works at the La Porte County Jail.
“I definitely feel some pressure,” she said. “It’s my senior year, this is the end. I’m the last Doperalski running in high school. Each year, I’ve definitely improved, but I’m looking for a lot more. I want to try to advance to semistate.”