Sophomore Allika Pearson and Junior Ben Martin traveled to Vancouver, Wash., to compete in Cross Country’s NAIA National Tournament on Nov. 22. For two consecutive years, these two athletes have represented John Brown University at the final cross country meet of the season.
To qualify for the national tournament, Pearson posted the fastest time of any JBU female athlete in program history at the Sooner Athletic Championships, according to JBU Athletics. Then, at nationals, she ran her course in 19:04, placing 57th out of 340 runners. Pearson said that the weather, along with the course, all propelled her to the good run that day.
“The weather was incredibly perfect, the course was beautiful and completely green—whereas Siloam was a mix of browns and grays—and I felt much more confident and strong going into the race,” she said.
Throughout this season Pearson said she has seen growth in herself as she learned new techniques.
“I paid more attention to how my body was responding during races, I listened to my coach about course strategy and actually had the strength this year to attempt his recommendations mid-race,” Pearson said. “I’m most proud of my progress in actually being aggressive and learning the ‘how’ of racing.”
For Martin, his passion for running began several years ago with his high school coach who always had, according to Martin, a “contagious excitement for the sport.” Despite Martin’s love of running, this season was not always easy for him.
“This season held many unexpected moments, and looking back I am reminded of God’s faithfulness. After the first meet of the season, I started experiencing heel pain. A few weeks later I wasn’t able to [run]. It killed me to sit out, to not be with the team,” Martin said. “When I was finally able to come back and join the team for workouts, I was reminded of the gift that running is. I was reminded to never take something God has given you for granted. My first race back I was unsure how I would perform, but before my race, I felt God give me a confidence and peace. I ended up winning my first collegiate race that day.”
Martin said that making his second appearance at nationals was a thrilling experience. “Having a chance to compete with some of the best athletes in the nation was beyond exciting. A couple of my teammates were able to come watch the race, and they said they could feel the ground shake when the gun went off and the runners flew by.”
Both Martin and Pearson said Coach Scott Schochler has positively influenced their time on the team. “Something that strikes me as admirable is the fact that our coach does not lead by yelling or with punishment in order to gain respect,” Pearson said. “The way he carries himself and how he coaches us makes us want to respect him. It is a healthy respect, not a fearful one. I’m fortunate to be running for someone who holds that quality.”
Martin said he is thankful for Schochler, who has helped him get where he is. “He has helped me further develop my skills as a distance athlete and reminded me that my worth does not come from my performances,” he said.
Martin said that he and his teammates put in a lot of effort each season, running brutal workouts, and yet, he said the runners do in fact run this sport for fun. “And yes,” Martin said, “we know our shorts are short.”