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Emma Schaefer represents Grinnell College cross country on national stage

Emma Schaefer ’23 dashes across the finish line just under 24 minutes. Contributed by Ted Schultz.

Emma Schaefer ‘23 competed at the NCAA Division-III National Championship for Cross Country last Saturday, becoming the first Cross Country athlete to compete at the championships since her coach, Sarah Burnell `14, competed in 2013.

“It’s the sort of experience I can’t really put into words,” said Schaefer.

Schaefer, along with Burnell, assistant coach Andrew Johnson and her teammate Lily Keane `22 flew to Louisville, Kentucky over the Nov. 20 weekend. The 6-kilometer race began early at E.P. “Tom” Sawyer State Park, a forested park just outside the city.

“I’ve never been in a race where you’re around so many people at the same time who are running the same pace as you,” she said.

Surrounded by so many others, Schaefer said she didn’t think she went out as fast as she wanted to, but that she closed the gap as the race went on. She was in 239th place after a kilometer, then jumped 27 spots to 212th at the 3-kilometer mark.

After the 6-kilometer race, Schaefer finished 178th out of 293 competitors with a time of 22:56.2, of the few times in her career she raced under 23 minutes.

The week before at the NCAA Division-III Midwest Region Championships, Schaefer had ran a time of 22:30.6, earning All-Region honors and jumping to 6th place on Grinnell’s all-time leader board.

The regionals race, she said, was not only her best race, but also one of the most fun cross country meets of her life.

“This nationals race was not as fast as that . . . but I didn’t have a time goal going into Nationals. I just wanted to enjoy it,” she said.

After placing third at regionals, she knew that she had a shot at qualifying but wouldn’t have confirmation until the next morning. Invites to Nationals include regional team champions, 22 at-large teams nationwide, and the top seven competitors in each region not on qualified teams, which is how she qualified.

“I didn’t know whether or not I made it to nationals. And then when I woke up on Sunday, I was just like, oh gosh. . . .” she said.

Schaefer said that Burnell told her to take a moment at the beginning of the race to fully absorb the moment of competing on the national stage. Schaefer made sure that she did.

“Obviously it’s just me running. But that is just one layer to it,” she said. “There are so many other people who are here with me in spirit.”

Some of her teammates had sent her letters to read the night for competition, and on the day of the competition, the Men’s and Women’s Cross Country team held a watch party at GAME house to cheer her on.

“Throughout the race, my mindset was just ‘I’m here as the result of so many people’s support’. . . Throughout the season, I just been grateful for the opportunity to run,” said Schaefer, who has been injured several times over career.

“Being able to compete throughout the season and make it to nationals was a really wonderful opportunity to be grateful for running.”

Schaefer, a third-year, said she doesn’t want to put pressure on herself for her upcoming Track & Field season or next year’s Cross Country season as the team’s only National Qualifier. Instead, she’s he’s only excited to see what more she can do.

“I don’t want to see it as a ceiling, I want to see it as a floor. And there’s more floors to go up.”

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Nina Baker
Nina Baker, Staff Writer
Nina Baker is a fourth-year Russian major with a Russian, Central European and Eurasian Studies concentration from Lakeville, Minnesota. When she's not reporting for The Scarlet & Black, she loves taking long walks, reading, and learning foreign languages.
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