Club Cross Country Runners Push One Another To Excellence
Last weekend both the men’s and women’s club cross country teams took home the National Intercollegiate Running Club Association (NIRCA) Half Marathon title.
The women notched their second title while the men enjoyed their first. Daniel Wilcko came in first for the men with a time of 1:12:44, and Katrina Helcoski paced the women with 1:26:59.
While Helcoski was ecstatic about her performance, she cared more about the team’s success. “A lot of us ran together for parts of the half marathon; we motivate each other. We put the team’s success before our personal success,” she said.
Helcoski knows she wouldn’t have had the extra push without the team cheering her on. “Even though most people do not believe it, cross country, specifically Penn State’s club team, is a team sport.”
She’s most proud of improving from last year, and while many view cross country as an individual sport, she owes the success to her team — most notably Jenni Hedin. “[She] trained with me, motivated me to run on the coldest of days, and pushed me in the race,” Helcoski said.
President Andrew Murphy noted that with more than 100 members, there’s both competitive and noncompetitive squads. Unexpectedly, the competitive team is open to anyone as long as they have enough cars and drivers for traveling competitions.
The team is self-coached and “workout chairs” are elected to lead the team in planning practices and runs. “The success of our team is largely because of our workout chairs…it’s also the hard work from our officers and the dedication and commitment of the teammates,” Murphy said.
There’s no club cross country coach — athletes excel because they want to. They’re not getting scholarships to compete and no one is telling them they have to. “The success is all on the individual runners,” senior runner Tim Appman said. The teams are brimming with members who turned down Division II and Division III offers to still run competitively while pursuing a Penn State education.
In the past the team ran against some Division II and Division III schools such as Lock Haven University and Slippery Rock University and found success. “It really is a testament to the strength of our club program,” Murphy said.
The opportunity of high levels of competitiveness is only one aspect as to what makes the team so special for the members. Murphy, recently named a scholar in Schreyer Honors College, finds the team as a great balance and is glad he turned down Division II and III offers for the Penn State experience.
“I can continue my love for running while being able to excel academically and to have career and philanthropy opportunities,” Murphy said. “I’m able to have a well-balanced college experience which is something I really value.”
Not only is the team nationally ranked, but it’s also highly lauded within the THON community. Since 2014-15, the team has put on the “Miles for Smiles” fundraiser.
Miles for Smiles is a 46-hour running relay using two treadmills and held in a member of the club’s house. Members who have at least two donors take turns running in one-hour increments. This year, they had more than 50 participants and raised almost $10,000. “It’s a way we can use our passion for running and our love for THON to make a difference,” Murphy said.
THON isn’t the only way the team gives back. The team also works with the university to help facilitate different events. Last year, the home cross country meet was held in conjunction with the intramural team’s, so they helped the university put on the event.
Every year they hold the THAW 5K the weekend after THON. The team works with the university to put on the event as it is used as a mean to get people out and active. “The university and club sports helps us out a lot so we like to help them out in return when we can,” Appman said.
National titles, an over 100 person family, and a heavily-involved team makes Club Cross Country one of the most dynamic clubs at Penn State. With Penn State pride in every stride the team takes, members found home within the team.
“Going to practice is my favorite part of the day. Every day I look forward to it,” Appman said. Murphy nodded his head in agreement, “The people are what makes the team so special.”