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This is a story about perseverance. This is about hard work, having a dream and doing everything you can to reach that dream.
This is a story about a national champion.
“I always dreamed of being a national champion,” said Loras junior Kassie Parker. “It always was in the back of my mind.”
Well maybe not always.
Growing up in Guttenberg along the Mississippi River, Parker didn’t even start running until her sophomore year at Clayton Ridge High School.
She said she wasn’t very good at first, but had an inkling there might be potential there.
“I wanted to be a fast runner,” she said. “I just didn’t know how to get there.”
This is a good point to let you know Parker figured out how to get there.
Last month, she won the NCAA Division III cross country title, capturing the 6,000-meter race in 20 minutes, 11.1 seconds — a whopping 17.5 ticks in front of runner-up Ari Marks of Wellesley.
“I felt good,” she said.
This was actually her second national championship. She won the 10,000-meter run at the 2019 NCAA III outdoor championships.
She also was selected last week Collegiate Women Sports Awards D-III Honda Athlete of the Year for cross country and is one of 11 finalists for the overall Athlete of the Year honor, which will be voted on at the end of the academic year.
Getting from Guttenberg to where she is today wasn’t easy — it took a lot of that aforementioned hard work, determination, confidence and a willingness to never give up on her dreams.
“There was always something that made me keep running,” the 22-year-old Parker said. “I always had a feeling to stick with it for some reason.”
There were bumps along the way, detours and doubts. There always are.
After placing in two events at the state high school track meet as a senior, she enrolled at the University of Iowa and “was going to put running behind me.”
She actually joined a running club, though, and even ran in a D-III meet unattached, placing in the top five.
She decided she “wasn’t enjoying the big school feeling,” enrolled at Loras and joined the cross country and track teams.
Those doubts faded with each mile she ran. And there were a lot of miles.
“I wasn’t running a lot of mileage” in high school, she said, probably putting in 15 to 20 miles a week.
“Now I’m double that, 40 to 50 miles” a week.
She figured out a key to success.
“I worked really hard to achieve it,” she said, moments after jumping off a bike to stay in shape after cross country while getting ready for the indoor season.
She said things started to click during her sophomore season and, as her mileage grew, so did her confidence. And her success.
“From the start of (last) summer, I was having good workouts,” she said.
Winning the NCAA title wasn’t a big shock. She did the hard work, ran the miles and believed in herself.
“I was going to fight for it,” she said.
But, at the same time, she admitted “I would have never thought I’d be here at this point in my life.”
She’s not done. She has the indoor and outdoor seasons this year, another cross country and outdoor season next year.
“I just want to keep improving,” she said.
Of course she does. That’s what chasing a dream means, setting goals and resetting them once the first is achieved. She’ll go back to what got her here, high mileage (hard work) and confidence in herself.
"I want to thank my coaches and teammates for believing in me and supporting me. Being a finalist (for the Athlete of the year honor) shows all the hard work I've put in and being recognized for, but still encourages me to work harder," she said in a release.
Funny how well all that works.
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