My Championship Experience is a diary blog written by Summit League student-athletes detailing their experiences at each of the 19 Championships.
IUPUI senior Rachel Zajac writes about her experience at the 2014 Summit League Outdoor Track and Field Championships:
This was a bittersweet weekend, as I knew the closing of the league meet would also mark the completion of my collegiate running career. Words can hardly convey everything that running has taught and given me. From learning work ethic and perseverance, to the simple daily reassurance of seeing smiles from coaches and teammates, I would never trade the opportunity to run in college. I’d like to extend a deep, heartfelt gratitude to my coach, Tony McDaniel, who has run by my side since my very first college practice, Joni Sanders, who first recruited me to come to IUPUI, Megan Jackson, our incredible assistant coach whom I have no idea how I ever survived without, and my supportive teammates who are there for one another not only on the track, but in every facet of life. Pushing back the tears that are welling in my eyes as I recollect the events of the weekend and my running career, I couldn’t be more thankful for every friend I have gained leading up to this final championship meet.
Tuesday, May 13th
With the engine of the GoExpress charter bus growling louder as Driver Jim shifted the tank into gear at approximately noon on Tuesday, May 13, so commenced our 14-hour trek to the summit. The 2014 Outdoor Track and Field Summit League Championships meet, that is. As we set off on the drive, I think we all sort of forgot how far away Fargo, N.D., is from Indianapolis, Ind. It is FOURTEEN HOURS. Just in case anyone forgot from the first sentence.
Various lifelines helped us survive the drive. A few movies were watched, for example- The Shawshank Redemption, a Larry Bird documentary, and Fire on the Track: The Steve Prefontaine Story (Coach Kep’s 3 favorites), and then of course Mean Girls… you know, we had all of the classics. For those who were not captivated by the urge to brush up on these timeless American tales, there were other options of activity. You could read through an entire library, become a savant in the category of your choosing, solve world hunger and the AIDS epidemic, have deep philosophical conversations, or take naps on naps on naps with your head propped up against the glorious bus window while trying to control the drool escaping your mouth.
I opted for movies and reading.
After a grueling seven or so hours, praise and glory were bestowed upon the state of Wisconsin when we arrived to Moosehead Lodge (a.k.a. a Wisco-style Best Western).
Wednesday, May 14th
Yet, the morning sun came too early, and again we were off – resuming the trip to Fargo. With a night to refresh and the previous day’s adventures, we were becoming well schooled in the art of travel. We now knew to opt for naps at any possible opportunity.
Then it happened, WE ARRIVED IN FARGO! After throwing our bags down in the hotel we hopped right back on the bus to pay the track a visit. Although I had been to NDSU’s track before, there is always a nervous, excited, curious feeling that swirls in your body as you come up to the competition site. It jolts you into focus and starts preparing you for the weekend of events to come.
After exploring a bit of Fargo on our run, we came back to the hotel to have a wonderful big family dinner with both the guys and girls teams. It is always so fun when we can all get together for things like this. Then, coaches were off to their coaches meeting… and once they returned we were supposed to have a team meeting. Coach Tony had texted the seniors a few days beforehand asking all of us to think back on our favorite memory to share with the team during the meeting. – That, my friend, is a very difficult task. Five years complies too many great memories to determine only one favorite. I went into the meeting empty handed; hoping I could just wing it and planning to word vomit about 50 different memories. From crazy team camp experiences to our deep car discussions after meets to simply watching the team grow, these ladies have been a constant in my life through so many years. After a very emotional team meeting, with coach also sharing his favorite memories of each of us seniors, we were ready to get the weekend started.
Thursday, May 15th
We awoke to go on a light run and hit up Panera for some lunch. Then we had a little free time to go to my favorite place in North Dakota, Scheels. Literally an entire mall squished into one massive building. But not just any mall, a mall focused on every single type of sport imaginable. This must be what heaven will be like.
After spending way too much time and money at Scheels, we rushed back to the hotel because tonight marked the 10k! We were excited to watch Savannah [Turner] and all of our boys race. Savannah ran very smart and it was amazing to see all of her hard work pay off. We couldn’t have been more proud of her for medaling as a freshman and are so excited to see what the years ahead will bring!
Friday, May 16th
My last college practice. We set off from the hotel for a pre-meet run with the boys. Getting the whole family together is a rare occasion and often a funny and eventful time. As always, the boys were our very own mock British race announcers, bluntly reporting any moves made during the run… and maybe being a little too honest at times. After a few strides and a little lunch it was naptime. One of the best times of the day!
Waking up five minutes before we needed to be in the lobby to head to the track for the 800-meter trials and 3,000-meter steeplechase, we rushed around like madwomen getting our stuff together and raced down the hallway to the elevator. A lady joined us in the elevator on the second floor – but we thought we had hit the first floor. We rushed past her off of the elevator and down the hallway to the lobby, but no lobby was in sight. After realizing we were on the second floor we raced back, caught the door, and jumped in with her. Not surprisingly, we were late to the lobby and coach wasn’t quite thrilled. Timeliness is not always my strong suit, but I am working on it.
Alas, we arrived to the track, ready to cheer Julie [Riggins] and Katie [Williams] on in the 800 meters! Amy [Mattingly], Lexi [Hunt], and Mandy [Campbell] were up next in the 3,000-meter steeplechase, the best event that the track has to offer. I was so happy to see Amy PR and finish her race so strongly after such a challenging year of running.
Saturday, May 17th
The last day of competition. – And for Mariana [Lopez-Owens], Emily [Vetor], Anne [Mogavero], and I, the very last. First the 1,500 meter girls were up, then it was time to race the 5,000 meters. When we got to the track, Amy, Katie, Nathan [Westfall], and I played one more game in our weekend-long euchre tournament. Nathan and I finally won! One for three. Woo hoo! I needed to keep my mind relaxed and so a little card playing was perfect.
It was a beautiful day in North Dakota and I was ready for the race. Though I didn’t do as well as I would have liked, I was elated to finally medal at the league meet. What better race to do it than my very last one? After the race Julie [Jeszenszky] and Kayla [Boyes] from IPFW ran up to me with huge hugs. It has been so amazing to get to know them better through all of these years running together. I love hearing their voices during races and likewise to cheer for them. It is so amazing that, while we are competitors, we are at the same time supportive and encouraging friends.
After quick showers, a little Papa John’s, and singing happy birthday to Mandy, we boarded the bus to drive straight through the night for home. But first – we dropped Mariana off so she could head to CHINA for her study abroad class. She has been such an incredible friend to me through the years and I hope she discovers so many new things through her travels!
The bus ride home was somewhat successful. I almost finished reading Divergent and learned all of the tricks to playing poker. Sleep was not an option. Whether I wanted to sleep or not, those bus seats were simply not going to allow it. The bus ride was long, but I didn’t mind it. I knew when we got back the trip would be over and my racing would have officially ended. I wasn’t dreading it. I was definitely ready. But it’s not every day that you get to have miserably long bus rides with 40 of your closest friends there to keep you company and share in your agony. It is really kind of awesome.
And so we arrived back to Indianapolis, Ind., Sunday morning, happy with the turnout of the season, geared up for the girls to reset their focus to cross country, and ready for a nice, long nap.
Don’t forget to check out the next edition of My Championship Experience as it follows the Baseball Championship, May 22-24 and throughout the 2013-14 season for coverage at each of The Summit League Championships.