It couldn’t be a more picture-perfect scenario for Claire Green, her final race of her cross country career for the University of Arizona will be in Louisville, Ky. as she competes in the NCAA National Championship on Nov. 18.
“I was beyond thrilled because last year I was first girl not to qualify, which was pretty heartbreaking. So to come back and finally make it my senior year – my last season of cross country – was like a dream come true,” Green said.
It was eight years ago that Green first decided to run cross country, but that wasn’t the first time Green came in contact with the sport. Her mom is a cross country coach and Green recalls that the first time she went to a meet was when she was just four months old.
Even with that influence in her life, she grew up a swimmer and swam competitively for fifteen years. But at a point in her life she decided to go from competing in the water to the land.
“There’s just something about being on the track or being on the cross country course that really connected to me,” Green said.
And while it connected with the Louisville, Colo. native, she didn’t always enjoy it, but everyone else around her did. It was the roar of the crowd and the excitement that came from a community that enjoyed running and supported it that kept her going.
Green ran in high school, and applauds her coaches as being some of her biggest influences and role models.
“My high school coaches... their goal was to have fun and to enjoy what we were doing,” Green said.
And that mentality hasn’t changed. Every day Green goes out on the track, she does it because she enjoys and loves it, even when it gets difficult. A sport that many shy away from because of its physical demands, Green gravitated to for the same reasons.
“Distance runners are kind of crazy, but I think one of the reasons I like doing it is that not that many people can do it. There’s this feeling of accomplishment every time you finish a race because you are literally pushing your body to its very limit,” Green said.
Now as a senior Green still finds the sport challenging and says track is one sport that never gets easier. All that comes in time is speed.
But with her experience also comes knowledge of the game, preparation and the difference between indoor and outdoor tracks. Although Green had a passion for running, she wasn’t sure if she would run at the colligate level.
“My freshman year we [Green and the athletic department] didn’t even know if I was gonna run cross country. I was recruited for track and they were planning on redshirting me, but we wound up losing more girls than expected, so they ran me that first season, and it’s pretty rough. It could only go up from there,” Green said.
Fast forward a few short years later and Green is being recognized at the UA and trying to qualify for the National Tournament.
“Winning Junior Student Athlete of the Year last year might be the most memorable [honor] because track and cross country are sports that do get overlooked a lot and to be recognized among all the student athletes was just amazing,” Green said.
But while she was the most spectacular junior play at Arizona, she didn’t make the cut for nationals. Green wouldn’t let that get her down and motivated her to try to make her way to the tournament during her senior year.
“I think it kind of fueled me because when you’re so close to reaching your goal and it doesn’t happen, you can either be crushed and depressed or you can get over it and find some motivation to do better the next time,” Green said.
And while cross country weighs heavily on individual talent, there’s a team aspect to it as well. Green mentioned that she balances the pressure of the two by focusing on herself and knowing her personal accomplishments will help further the team.
But when it’s hard to keep going and find that motivation, her teammates are there to pick her up. All the girls on her team, Green said, have different roles and characters that keep the girls going through rough times. She said she’s always had support though be it a tough workout, or even just a rough morning.
How does Green fit into this equation? She’s the team’s cheerleader.
“I’m pretty energetic... I think I tend to bring a lot energy... I try and hype everybody up and keep the energy levels higher,” Green said.
Her teammates lift her up, as do the coaches, whom she couldn’t praise enough for their dedication to athletes and not over-working them.
“Coach Riley and coach Lee are, in my opinion, the best coaches in the NCAA because their focus isn’t on giving you the best race you can have or the best season you can have; their focus is on giving you the best career you can have,” Green said.
Given her knowledge and experience with the sport and the great coaches she’s had in her life, she has thought about being a coach, but not for a while.
After first going for a degree in elementary education, she chose to get a degree in marketing. She plans on going to a company like Nike and working in their marketing department. If it’s not Nike, she’ll be found in another place in the sports world, a place she said she wants to stay in.
But after that, maybe ten years down the road, she says she’ll be ready to coach high school. Now, she believes she wouldn’t be able to properly coach athletes without wanting to jump out and compete herself. But after some time, she believes she’ll be ready to commit herself 100 percent to her athletes, just like her coaches did.
For now, however, she’s just focused on doing the best she can at nationals and, most importantly, has fun while doing it.
“The day it stops being fun for me is the day that I quit,” Green said.
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