When I graduated high school, I knew that I wanted to run cross-country and track and field in college.

hess track

I never gave it a second thought. After visiting several universities, I chose the Mount because it felt like home. It was a place where I knew I could thrive academically and athletically. I didn’t know back when I was an incoming freshman, that choosing to run at MSJ would be one of the best decisions I’d ever make. Four years later, I’m grateful for that decision.

It was meant to be, that’s how I see it. The first day I started running was when I was in fifth grade. My dad, sister, and I went for a run on MSJ’s outdoor track and after that first run, I never looked back. I was hooked. Some people wonder how I could possibly enjoy physically exerting myself, legs pumping and heart beating out of my chest, mile after mile. When I tell people I enjoy running, they look at me like I’m crazy. Maybe I am, but it’s much better than relaxing on the couch. For me, running is a labor of love. While achieving personal records and winning awards is gratifying, true joy is found in the pleasure of running itself.

Running is more than a sport I do; it’s something I’m passionate about. It continually shapes me into the individual I am meant to be. Each workout, mile, and race completed make me stronger and sharpen my resolve. Through running, I find the inner strength and confidence I need to overcome challenges I face, within and outside of the sport. There is power in perseverance, and running teaches you that you can thrive with endurance and hope. They say good things come to those who wait, but in the waiting, you must continue to work hard every day. So, when the time is truly right, you’ll know it in your bones.

Races are just one piece of the puzzle, and what matters more is the training you do to prepare. My favorite memories from cross country and track and field seasons were the long runs spent with my teammates. There’s nothing better than being outdoors and feeling those endorphins as you soak up the air and sunshine. You hear your feet pounding on the pavement, the roar of cars nearby, and the sound of birds chirping, and it pulls you into a rhythmic peace. Running allows me to clear my mind and eliminate any stress from the day. It is therapeutic. It provides a much-needed break from the pressure of deadlines, expectations, and screen time.

Speed workouts remind me of my ability to push the envelope just a little further. During a workout, I focus on one interval at a time and break it down into chunks to make it manageable. The tough speed training helps me to visualize what it will be like during a race, since during races you are expected to exert yourself more than normal. One of the most important skills to develop as a runner is to allow your gut instinct to take over and allow your mind to take a back seat. The key to being successful is to trust that your body knows what to do and to remind your mind that you are more than capable.

Two of my favorite races this past cross country season were at Asbury University and the HCAC Conference Championship. The 5K at Asbury was memorable because throughout the race I was able to prove to myself that by trusting in my inner drive, anything was possible. The whole race, I led in front of the pack, so this gave me confidence to set the pace. It was one of my highest places, finishing in second overall. At the HCAC Conference Championship this year, I accomplished a personal goal I had set for myself freshman year. I made the HCAC all-conference team and won a medal by finishing 11th in the women’s 6K. It was one of the best days of my life. As I stood on the podium after receiving my medal, I couldn’t help but think back with gratitude that this was the culmination of all the dedication and hours I had devoted to the sport. I had pushed and powered through the 6K that day, and I knew that the victory was hard earned, but worth the effort.

As I compete in one last indoor and outdoor track season before I graduate in May, I can’t help but remember all the little things that made being a college athlete special. It was the long runs at Fernbank Park, in downtown Cincinnati by the river, and to the local library and back. It was the track workouts that pushed me mentally but made me feel as if I could glide with the wind. It was the cherished team dinners at Piada or Raising Cane’s. It was a mindfulness exercise after a day of busy classes.

But, most of all, I am grateful for my coach, who has always believed in me and my potential. Without her guidance, I would never have been able to become the runner I am today. She has helped me to believe in myself and leave my anxiety about competing behind. I approach every race as an opportunity to make it count and to do the best I can. After graduation, I can look back fondly on my experience running cross country and track and field as time well spent and fully enjoyed. I will miss many things. But I am happy that even after college, I can continue to lace up my running shoes and chase the next adventure.