For someone who was one of 70 individual qualifiers across America competing in the NCAA DIII Cross Country National Championships, I could not have started off more backward if I tried.
Most of my middle school years were spent trying to convince myself both that I was a sprinter in track and that I enjoyed playing field hockey. I didn’t make for a great sprinter, and was cut from the high school team during 9th grade. I also didn’t make for an accomplished field hockey player, nor did I enjoy it. Things seemed to work out in my favor, though, and in my sophomore year of high school, I changed directions and joined cross country.
Cross country has always been a sport that has felt like home to me, and by the end of high school, I knew I wanted to keep competing in college. I found Arcadia through the major I was pursuing, (scientific illustration) and though they didn’t have the most established program, I didn’t mind too much as long as I could keep running and also pursue an interesting career.
I spent the first few years of collegiate cross country figuring out how to compete in a college setting and learning more about myself as a runner, all the while slowly climbing up the conference rankings and achieving higher goals. Though I was able to be an All-Conference Runner and All-Region Runner each year, it wasn’t until this past season when our team was put under new training from our coach Ben that I really broke free and discovered what I had always been capable of.
Nationals had been on my mind the past few years as I had seen one of my teammates, Tate, qualify for nationals during my sophomore year, but it seemed out of reach without drastic change. To be an individual qualifier, you have to be in the top seven spots (not including the team that finishes first) during the regionals championships. This is a huge feat, considering regionals often overlaps states and features hundreds of each team’s top runners.
Near the end of the season, I had my best race to date and took off over a minute from my previous best 6k time, running a 22:03 and breaking the school record set by Tate by almost 40 seconds. This was at the same location where regionals would be held at Dreams Park, NJ, and I finished 4th overall against most of the same girls that would be racing at regionals. And finally, it set in that nationals was not only achievable, but right within reach. When the day of regionals came, I relaxed, ran confidently, and finished 4th overall to individually qualify for nationals.
Qualifying for nationals meant more to me than just proving to myself that I could work my way to the top; it also was a full circle moment to close out my time at Arcadia cross country. This year, nationals was held at Big Spring High School in Newville, PA, home to an infamously hilly course that I happened to compete at during my high school career. I was thrilled to be able to close out my senior season on a course that I knew and loved, surrounded by my teammates and family who were able to come watch since it was so close.
Part of the beauty with running, especially long distance, is the fact that you can start at any point in your life and keep improving at any age. I could not be more thankful for this sport, my teammates and coaches, and for the opportunity I had to come full circle and reaching success I never thought possible.