Building A Program
Lake Forest College had a club track team with limited success in cross-country and a club track team when I arrived in 2014. By training and competing tirelessly with coaches and teammates, we set a higher standard for success and brought back the NCAA track team as a foundation for building a running tradition.
I got to give credit to my coach and the teammates who came before me. They had the vision of building a program that had such limited history of success and after one year convinced me that greater possibilities lied ahead. When I joined the team in August 2014, I had the belief that there was so much potential to tap into for both myself and my team.
It did not take long for a team of freshmen and sophomores to finish third in the 2014 Midwest Conference Championships and 18th at the Regional meet that year. Beforehand, the program did not finish better than fifth in the conference or come close to a top-half finish in (a forty-team) region. Just like that, the sky was the limit for our future.
Some things did not go as planned. Despite tremendous consistency in our conference and regional finishes, we have yet to surpass our championship-race finishes from 2014. I struggled with performance pressures and turned in sub-par performances in several of the subsequent championship races. In 2016 I struggled with chronic stress from the increasing demands of balancing academics, running, and seriously preparing a professional future. My performances plateaued and I lost enjoyment and meaning in the sport.
2017 was the year of physical, mental, and emotional breakthroughs. The sense of meaning and fulfillment from the sport came back. By this point, my mileage more than doubled from high school. My 5k time improved from 15:39 to 15:15 in 2017 alone. My 8k time went from 26:08 to 25:03. The process of setting new marks for myself and my program still came with struggles.
Life looked great on the outside after the conference championships this past season. I broke the school 8k record, led my team, and won my school's athlete of the week award. Beneath the storylines, I was not empowered to whole-heartedly fight for myself or the team and crossed the finish line feeling empty and unfulfilled.
Just like that, an alarm went off. I knew that I had to explore struggles beyond this sport. I figured that beyond any performance or confidence issue, there was an existential issue. Through deep introspection that lasted days and weeks, I started to clearly see the identity gap I carried around and vowed to openly talk about this with coaches and teammates. This was one of the most profound emotional breakthroughs I have made in my life.
Beyond the memories and growth, uncovering these vulnerabilities and struggles was the greatest thing I have got from being a college runner. This spring, leaving the greatest mark possible on Lake Forest College's now NCAA-official track program means a lot to me.