NIU finishes last in season finale

By James Nokes

This is the scene as a cross-country runner reaches the finish line.

Exasperated, exhausted, crying, bent over, out of breath. Muscles so dense with starch runners can’t even bend over to untie their shoes.

The cool fall air burns as they breath it in their lungs, and all around people smile.

Family, friends, and loved ones defined the MAC cross-country championships Saturday at NIU’s North 40 course.

The positive vibes from the spectators were amazing. Unlike the testosterone-packed football crowd that waits for the demise of the other team’s quarterback, or the basketball crowd that chants “air-ball,” this group pulled for all runners.

Parents from the participating schools wore embroidered cross country dad or mom clothing. They lined the course like spectators line a fairway at a golf tournament. They screamed “Come on,” “Keep up,” and “You can do it.”

And the pack of runners carried on with stone-faced determination. The passion in their words was so thick it resonated through the crisp fall air.

Beata Rudzinska of Akron finished the 3.1-mile course first with a time of 17:24. Second place went to Dagmara Handzlik of Toledo, who finished in 17:29. Akron won the team event and had four runners in the top 10. Toledo had three top-10 runners and finished second.

The top finisher for NIU was Jessica Schauff with a time of 18:55. NIU finished last in the 12-team field. As Schauff took a high-five from Associate Athletic Director Robert Collins, she said it was great to run in front of family and friends.

“It was a perfect day,” Schauff said. “There was a lot of support from other teams and family and friends. It was great to have everyone out; all the support helped a lot. Sure, we want to beat the other team, but when other people see the pain on a runner’s face – they just cheer for them. You can tell runners need the support when you watch.”

Injured NIU runners Jackie Olson and Denisse Valladares cheered on the contestants.

“You could be fast but if you don’t believe you can do it, you aren’t going to do as good,” said injured NIU runner Denisse Valladares. “It’s not always about the outcome but about getting your personal best and improve from the last meet and work your way up the pack.”

“When you are done those were the best 18 minutes of your life,” Olson said. “Even if it was a bad race you can enjoy it.”