While most college students usually save their Saturday mornings for intensive sessions in Gleason Library or recovering from the mistake that was Friday night, the seniors on the women’s cross country team wouldn’t know either of those college staples. Almost every Saturday of their past four years has been spent running, competing or preparing for races – all of which come with the territory of being college athletes.
But for them, running hasn’t simply been a part of their college experience; running has been their college experience.
The group met during preseason in the weeks before their freshman year, already having new friends that they knew when other students were still struggling to find their own footholds in the first awkward days of college.
‘I didn’t start on the team and they were on my hall,’ senior Lisa Cole said. ‘I was moving in on Freshman Orientation Day and the whole freshman group of cross country came barging into my room and was like ‘Why aren’t you running? Coach told us to find you.’ So that was kind of why I joined.’
Cole, who came to college planning to pursue figure skating, ended up trading in her skates and ran track that year before joining her teammates for cross country the following fall.
Several traditions also helped the team stick together and further cemented the comradery that held it together for the past four years.
Preseason, with all the work it meant, also heralded in yearly traditions such as the whole team taking over minigolf courses,go kart racing, team-bonding pasta dinners and a special shoelace tradition that further helped tie the group together.
‘Everybody gets a piece of string and we then read through a story about holding the rope for your teammate and asking yourself who on your team can you depend on to hold the rope and if your teammates can depend on you to hold the rope,’ senior Heather Graham said. ‘We tie them on our racing shoes and they are a reminder during the race that you are not alone and that you are part of team and you have a responsibility to those on your team to give it your all during the race.’
The senior members of the team have helped define, rebuild and set a new high standard for future teams in the program. And their connection and belief in one another only meant more success as a team.
From the start of the season this year, the senior members were confident enough to put into words a goal that had not been mentioned for years – taking the team to nationals.
The team has achieved a number of successful merits throughout the past four years, and it is hard to focus simply on one sole accomplishment.
From team championship wins in both cross country and track, sending four individual runners over the past two years to Nationals, all the while improving their times along the way-, the senior women have seen seconds steadily come off their running times over the past four years, a testament to the determination of the group to improve themselves and the team around them.
‘ And while they fell short of their goal of taking the whole team to the Nationals this year, they are confident in the strong group of underclassmen that will be returning next fall and the bright future that they see for the team in the next few years.
The women were also quick to mention the great support, both from family and from head coach Barbara Hartwig as key to their success. Add to that the great relationship that they shared with the men’s team, and you have a recipe for success that bred a rewarding four-year running career for the group.
And while some teams might simply pack it up once practice and the races are over, the women have grown together to the extent that many of them have lived and studied abroad together. The lifestyle that running requires may mean that they can’t stay up late on Friday nights, but living in that support circle helped make this group grow from just another team into a tight-knit nuclear family.
‘All in all, the women had an outstanding season,’ Hartwig said. ‘They had a winning attitude and were contenders in pretty much every meet they competed in this year. Their work ethic was outstanding and their expectations were high. I think we made some huge improvements over the previous seasons and the future looks bright.’
But with the season over, the friendships still remain. While it may mark the end of their immeasurable four-year journey that cannot be measured simply in best times, number of shoes worn through or finishes in races, to the seniors it has been more than a sport, more than an extracurricular activity in college. Cross country brought them together in a way that no other activity could.
After spending four years together, the seniors may finally have to go their separate ways, taking with them a myriad miles ran and a successful legacy that will inspire the underclassmen on the team for years to come, but most importantly they gained friendships that will last long after they finish their final track season together in the spring.
Clark is a member of the class of 2012.