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Give athletics a chance

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“You want to do what?” my roommate said as we chatted over Skype.

One month away from starting our sophomore year of college, we both felt excited to go back to campus without the Week One jitters. Last year we made new friends, met great professors and created numerous cafeteria creations that are to die for. In other words, we knew our way around, and we were more excited than ever to be Oles.

Until I decided to join cross country.

“Yeah, I think it will be fun!”

“Why?”

She had a point. Anyone observing my decision would be confused.

“Now we’ll be heading to Skoglund Athletic Center,” my tour guide said to me when I was a prospective student.

“Oh, that’s okay. We don’t need to go there,” I responded.

“Are you sure?” he persisted, as any good tour guide would. “It’s an excellent facility.”

“I’m a theatre major,” I deadpanned.

He understood and politely continued.

So why would I want to join cross country? For as many times as I was asked that question – which was understandable, considering I had never run on a team before – I didn’t have a precise answer. To tell the truth, I surprised myself. I’d been running on my own for years, and I wanted someone to keep me company. That was the simple reason, which wasn’t enough to satisfy most people. So instead I clarified why I WAS NOT running cross country.

1. Not because I wanted to be the best.

Please, I didn’t even think I’d be remotely good. My goal was to survive. Even as a self-proclaimed optimist, I knew cross country practices would be far from similar to a jog around my neighborhood while listening to musical theatre and choreographing opening numbers in my mind.

2. Not because I was going through a mid-college crisis, causing me to change my identity.

This decision was not a catalyst for my transformation from theatre major to athlete. My idea of fun still consisted of writing, blogging and drinking dark roast coffee, thrift shopping and vegetarian cooking. I brought a book about the history of the United Nations to a Twins Game and I’m proud of it.

3. Not for “fun.”

Even after I finished the season – yes, I made it through the whole season – I still didn’t think running 12 miles was necessarily fun. In order to think sweating, panting and pounding is fun you’d have to go by a very convoluted definition. However, I imagined that the challenge of running 12 miles would have rewarding and refreshing effects.

I was right about the challenging part.

Between running for hours each day and the intensity of races, my body hurt more than it did after tech week for a theater performance. There were definitely times when I thought about how easy it would be to quit and how stupid this whole idea was, but after one encouraging word from a coach or a thought about how much I’d pushed myself, I didn’t regret a single minute of it.

Even though the team placed second in our conference and some of my teammates placed in the top ten at nationals, all forty-some members of the team practiced together. My coaches pushed each player and respected each player the same, making everyone feel part of a successful, close-knit team. I wasn’t just another body; I was a student, an athlete and the person who tried to tell funny stories during warm-up runs.

Cross country tested my commitment, drive and stamina – physically and mentally – all the while boosting my self-esteem and keeping my outlook on life positive. If I could run eight miles of hills at 6 a.m. and go about the rest of my day smiling, I knew I could finish anything. And that was the best part: I knew I could do it. I realized that my experiences as a St. Olaf athlete weren’t just about the time I spent with the team; they impacted my entire college career.