If there’s one memory Anna Valentine ‘21 can pick out of her four years of running cross country at Fairfield University, it’d be last year’s Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference Championship. You’d assume, by her love of this memory, the memory of her team’s shared excitement as they jumped for joy while parents cheered, that they had won. Or, maybe they hadn’t won, but it’d be like one of those late ‘90’s sports movies where, despite an ankle break and a tough season, the team was able to snag a place on the podium, third place at least.
But the team didn’t notch third, or even fourth place. The Fairfield University women’s cross country team secured an eighth place finish that year.
I learned this after asking Valentine what her favorite team memory is, pushing her to maybe share a time when the team won a really big meet.
She laughed, and shook her head saying, “We don’t win any meets.”
That didn’t matter last year though, as the excitement over their eighth place finish was warranted. It was the first time they snuck out of a ninth place finish since 2013.
“We worked really, really hard,” she said, “and put everything we had into the race, and into our season.”
She mentioned that at the awards ceremony they stood out among the more quiet, humble teams that placed above them. Those that received top podium spots simply clapped quietly as if at a golf match.
But, when it was announced that they had officially gotten eighth place, everyone exploded. This led the poor award ceremony announcer to think he had made a mistake.
“[He] was like wait, what team? Fairfield? You guys are the Stags?,” Valentine recalled.
Their team danced and sang along with the soundtrack of “Big Bootie Mixes” by Two Friends.
“It was so clear how much we loved each other,” Valentine said of that cherished memory.
Even with their season canceled, that love still exists, but it was hard for a while with COVID-19 restrictions in place.
For three weeks at the beginning of the semester, Valentine and her teammates had to practice individually. Now they’re in phase two, where for three weeks they do smaller team practices by splitting in half, to limit the number of people they’re practicing alongside. But, in just another week, the cross country team will be back together again, as one.
Valentine says she’s excited for that because when she graduates the thing she’s going to miss most is her team.
“They just really make running fun,” she said, smiling, “which is sometimes hard to do, but even on bad days when people will come to practice with a bad attitude or they just had a tough exam or something personal is going on, after ten minutes into the run everyone’s laughing and you just forget about everything bad that’s happened… it’s just so nice.”
It’s unfortunate that Valentine’s senior season is non-existent, but she said it’s now turned this fall into a building year for the cross country team. She and the other captain, Jane Frawley ‘22, want to leave the team in the best possible situation for next year. Valentine said that this hasn’t been time-off. They still practice every day and the rules still apply where all teammates are expected to be at practice. “Everyone’s been taking it really seriously,” she says.
Her teammates agree. Rachel Martin ‘22 was more than willing to share her opinion of what it is like having Valentine as a captain, and what she means to the team.
“[The captains] have done a fantastic job keeping our team motivated and unified during this ‘down time’ where we are not racing,” Martin said. “I think the most important thing right now is staying positive and staying focused on our goals, and the captains have really done a great job keeping everyone excited and training for next fall.”
Though Valentine might be graduating here on campus or at home with her diploma sent through the mail, like last year’s seniors, her time at Fairfield is coming to a close.
When I asked her why she likes running, she bit her lip and hummed, as if it was a difficult question to answer.
“Um,” she started, before laughing a bit, and pulling her leg up to her chest. “I think what I love about it is that you can have so many different skill sets, like everyone can be a runner if they want to be a runner.”
Valentine might be leaving Fairfield, but she won’t stop running. Unlike those team sports with all the equipment, running is as easy as it gets. You really just need a pair of sneakers, some motivation and a hard working, supportive team to run with.
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