Addi Zerrenner thought she was hallucinating.
Zerrenner was making her way into the second of three loops in the 6,000 kilometer race during the 2016 Pac-12 Cross Country Championship in Tucson, Ariz. and told herself to keep pushing harder. That’s when she thought she saw an unmistakable figure sneak into her view, her mom Melinda.
At first she couldn’t believe it, but then Zerrenner realized it was her mom.
“This was one of the first times my mom has seen me run in college cross country,” Zerrenner said. “I was like 'I gotta go'.”
Less than two months earlier, the second time around the loop had been her downfall in a previous race, but not this time. Zerrenner, the redshirt junior, stayed strong on the loop and on the third time around, she made her move. Zerrenner started passing other runners one by one until she crossed the finish line that resulted in a 10th place finish.
“Last year I had the best race of my life,” Zerrenner said. “I just did it for my mom.”
It is common for student athletes to find inspiration through their parents and family members, but for Zerrenner's case there’s more than what meets the eye.
Her father, Robert, passed away when she was five-years-old and since then Melinda raised Zerrenner and her older brother, Zack, as a single mom.
“My mom used to get up at 4 a.m., go muck 12 horse stalls so I could have my horse board there for free,” Zerrenner said. “Then she would come home, fix us breakfast, get dinner ready in the crockpot because then she would drive my brother to the other side of town to go to high school. And then she would work eight hours, pick us up after school and we’d commute an hour and a half to my brother’s soccer club. Then we would come home around eight or nine, eat dinner in the crockpot and do it all over again.”
After seeing her mom and and brother struggle day after day, Addi decided it was time to mirror them.
“Watching the two biggest people in my life just inspire me so much, I think it’s lot of my work ethic or when I don’t really feel like digging deep on a workout, I’m like ‘no, stop being soft’,” Zerrenner said.
Addi was a late bloomer in terms of finding her calling. Running wasn’t even on her radar as she began high school.
“I thought I was going to play college soccer and pro soccer,” Zerrenner said.
But everything all changed when she went out for track and field her freshman year as a way to stay in shape for the next soccer season. That’s when Zerrenner fell in love with a new sport. She decided to pursue that avenue and never looked back.
“It’s my passion... It’s my therapy,” Zerrenner said.
Zerrenner has translated the work ethic she gained from her mom to the desert trails in Tucson as she is now one of the top female distance runners at the University of Arizona, alongside teammate Claire Green.
“I never think anything is out of my reach,” Zerrenner said. “I think that a lot of people are kind of more realists, whereas I’m more a dreamer.”
As Zerrenner begins to close into the chapter to her redshirt junior year, she says she knows there’s plenty of time left in college, but still time to dream about the future. Of course, Zerrenner’s mom plays a part.
“Hopefully, I once I can start racing in Europe, I really want to take her,” Zerrenner said.
And if that happens, Zerrenner won’t need to have the same shocked look from the Pac-12 Championship.
Her mom has been there all along.
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