Typically, cross country is thought of as an individual sport. However, at the University of Lynchburg, individuals on the men’s and women’s cross country team lift together, practice together, and compete together. Through this togetherness, the members of the cross country team have created strong, nearly unbreakable bonds.
Fourth-year Michela Cholak insists, “As a senior, it has been an amazing experience to see how the program has grown! The team is filled with dedicated and motivated runners, and it makes the whole experience ten times better because we all enjoy the suffering and grind together.” She goes further to say that running is for the joy and love of the team as a whole, not the individual.
This season, the cross country program has found success in implementing this model of unification and togetherness by having two runners qualifying for the NCAA Division III Cross Country Championships. Third-year, Stephanie Burnett, qualified for the Championships by placing fourth in the women’s 6k-run during the South/Southeast Regional meet on Saturday, November 16 where she set a school record for the fastest women’s 6k-run with 21:40.9. Second-year, Max Sparks, also qualified for the Championships on Saturday when he ended in second place in the men’s 8k with a run of 25:07.0. Out of all the teams that competed in the meet, the men’s team placed fourth and the women’s team placed sixth.
Also qualifying for all-region, aside from Burnett and Sparks, was fourth-years Shawn Gmurek, Reid Sharkey, and Michela Cholak qualified for all-region.
“I couldn’t have made it to Nationals without my teammates and coach. I had known for a while that I had a chance at qualifying for nationals, but was nervous about talking about it. But on Saturday, when I got to the line, I was ready to go because I knew my teammates were there for me mentally and physically. I was running that race to qualify, but I was also running to make them proud and show everyone what Lynchburg XC was made of. Championship races tend to be about place and not time, so I raced for a qualifying place to nationals and the school record just came with it. I’m excited to see if I can break my own record next year,” says Burnett.
Watch Burnett and Sparks run online on Saturday, November 23 compete in the Championships at E. P. “Tom” Sawyer State Park in Louisville, Kentucky.