Running Toward Rewards

I first laced up my running shoes at the age of 7. Prior to that I had witnessed my dad leave our home several times to run, regardless of the weather. And each time, he returned with a smile. I assumed running would be enjoyable and effortless.

By Kristin Looney, JO’09, AS’09, GR’10

But the first time I tried, it was exactly the opposite. I vowed, while dramatically huffing and puffing around my block, that I would retire from the sport. Yet my energy and determination overruled that idea, and I again laced up my shoes. Eventually the huffs and puffs subsided, and I begged my parents to enter me in the Ridge Run, a local event held each Memorial Day that included a kids’ one-mile “fun run.” I was 7 years old.

The race did not feel “fun.” In fact, it was torture. But the cheers that welcomed me as I crossed the finish line made the strain seem insignificant. My family encouraged me to continue competing, and I competed in the fun run for the next seven years. Over time I became focused not on winning but on improving. Beating my personal best—even by a single second—was supremely satisfying.

When I entered high school, I knew that running was something I enjoyed. However, I had clear specifications when it came to the sport: Anything over a mile was simply too far. My coach had other ideas.

During practice one day, she revealed that I would be competing in my worst nightmare: the 3,200-meter run. The thought of running two miles—let alone running them in circles on a track and in a race—made me feel like I had a rock the size of Stonehenge in my stomach.

I contemplated potential excuses. Could I feign a fracture? Could I blame bad cafeteria food? At that moment, I loathed the fact that I was a terrible liar.

As I reluctantly ran from curve to straightaway, curve to straightaway, the feelings from my first time running around the block resurfaced. Several times, I vowed that my days of running long distances were through. Yet as I crossed the finish line, the struggles transformed into smiles. My self-doubt decreased, and I had faith that I could achieve anything. With renewed confidence and drive, I set and attained several competitive goals during the following years, including qualifying for state and being named Most Valuable Player.

During my senior year in high school, I came into contact with a midsize university in Iowa that invited me to visit campus.

As a lifelong Chicagoan, my perception of Iowa was that it was covered in cornfields and students shared tractor rides to class. But what I had learned about the school—Drake University—intrigued me. The plethora of programs and boundless opportunities seemed ideal (and the blue track didn’t hurt). So I took a road trip.

The moment I arrived on campus, I knew Drake was a flawless fit: Everyone I met was warm and inviting, the students were engaged in their classes and with each other, and, of course, there was the Drake Relays. That first visit eventually led to a position on Drake’s cross-country and track-and-field teams.

When I started at Drake, I was ecstatic about everything. I took classes that I found incredibly appealing, such as Reading and Writing Short Stories and Sports Psychology. In addition, my teammates were not only dedicated, they were also extremely enthusiastic and enjoyable to be around. I developed strong friendships quickly and could not fathom being at any other school than Drake.

A few months into college, however, I encountered both academic and athletic roadblocks. Throughout my life, I had been a perfectionist. In both academics and athletics, I set high goals for myself and worked diligently to achieve them. But in college, the bar was higher. The expectations began to feel overwhelming. Within a few weeks, I received a poor grade on a paper and ran a horrible race. I began to doubt my abilities to succeed as both a student and a runner.

During those times of uncertainty, the faculty and staff at Drake reached out to me and continued to help me build my confidence. And throughout Drake Athletics, the idea was continually reinforced that successful student-athletes remain positive, dedicated, and adaptable regardless of circumstances. That concept became my mantra.

While competing, my coaches emphasized that receiving outstanding grades was even more important than attaining athletic accomplishments. While learning, my professors stressed that education was not about the grade; it was about gaining knowledge. In both athletics and academics, I learned that the amount of effort I applied would make the difference between satisfactory and superior. Because of the optimistic outlook promoted throughout Drake Athletics, I began to believe that I could soar over what I previously perceived as the unbeatable bar.

Shortly before I finished my undergraduate degree, I made a decision that would have a profound impact on my future. Although I immensely enjoyed my journalism classes, I decided to pursue a master’s degree in teaching. I was determined to make a difference, and I realized that education was my true passion. The decision to pursue higher education amounted to more time and money. Yet my confidence in my choice never wavered. Without a doubt, I knew that Drake was the place where I wanted to attend graduate school. I worked diligently in my courses, and, fortunately, my efforts were rewarded. I received my dream job—to teach high school English and journalism while coaching the school’s cross-country team.

As a teacher and coach, the messages I learned at Drake remain meaningful. At times the plethora of papers and my penchant for procrastination make tasks seem insurmountable. The huffs and puffs that I experienced during my first few times running sometimes make a return in my career. Sometimes I witness a glimmer of these doubts in my students as well: A challenging curriculum can simply seem too intimidating. A cross-country workout can seem too strenuous. Both my students’ and my comfort zones are frequently compressed.

Yet, through my years at Drake, I’ve learned to never settle for satisfactory. I’ve worked to instill this notion in my students and runners as well. The standards that Drake has encouraged me to continuously set for myself always return to the forefront of my mind. The efforts are never easy, but the results are always rewarding.

Running had transformed from an arduous test to a persistent passion.

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