During high school track season, Emily Anderson ’10 used to avoid practice and relax on a swing set instead.
Now, she is a two-time All-American and has a tattoo to prove it.
The junior at the College of William and Mary traded in the playground for a steady dose of hard work, pain and tears to become one of the fastest collegiate runners in the nation. Anderson has surpassed her opponents, and now has her sights set on being sponsored to run professionally upon graduation.
The junior’s self-motivation, teammates, coach and faith have transformed Anderson from a high school freshman claiming to be too clumsy to compete in any other sport into a near Olympian. Anderson progressed as far as last summer’s semifinal heat of the U.S. Olympic trials for the 1500-m in Eugene, Ore.
The lanky 5’8” star from the suburbs of Chicago did not take the easy path to success, and certainly did not achieve greatness immediately upon her arrival at the College.
Although she never ran many miles in high school, Anderson’s natural talent led her to pursue collegiate running. Once accepted to the College, Anderson reviewed her expected summer workout plan, and was stunned by the 45 miles per week required.
“I thought, ‘This is unrealistic. This is a joke,’” Anderson said. “So once I got here, the first semester was a real transition. I was getting my butt kicked.”
Anderson recalls standing at the bottom of the Yates Hall staircase, fighting back the temptation to cry, cell phone in hand, telling her mother that the three flights of stairs to her dorm room were too intimidating to ascend.
“I couldn’t keep up in workouts, I was getting dropped. I was overwhelmed first semester, especially starting out in cross country,” Anderson said.
Being a self-proclaimed sprinter at heart, she ran the mile only occasionally in high school, finding her niche in the 400-m and 800-m. After the rough transition to long distance, the freshman rediscovered her love of running during a workout at the end of the cross country season.
“By the end of the semester, when we got to do a time trial on the track, I was like ‘Okay, I can do this,’” Anderson said. “And then it got to track, and my freshman season went well.”
Anderson has not looked back since. Her trademark yellow, red and green Nike Victory spikes have carried her to two All-American Honors in addition to a slew of CAA honors and records.
Despite her accomplishments, Anderson feels the pressure to further succeed.
To diminish the nerves, Anderson and junior Meghan Burns paint their nails the night before big races. Anderson is still sporting gold from last month’s NCAA indoor nationals.
The sockless mid-distance racer hooks up her iPod to intense rap an hour before the gun, preferably playing “Til I Collapse” by Eminem, to get in the zone. Past races roll through Anderson’s head while she stretches, providing comfort and reassurance of her skill.
“We focus on ponytails and nails to distract ourselves and think about other things,” Anderson said.
Finally on the starting line, the Tribe’s leader is all business.
“My dad always says I get ‘the glare,’” Anderson said. “It is not intentional, I think I just get nervous and start glaring around at people.”
Nerves and ‘the glare’ help the junior play the role of intimidator.
“I’d like to hope I am intimidating. I ran a race out in Washington earlier in the year, and I was intimidated. There was an Olympian in the race, and I ran like I was intimidated. It was a big learning experience for me,” Anderson said.
While the emphasis on success and top-tier performances remains constant in any elite racer’s life, Anderson seeks a higher purpose in her training. She points to Hebrews 12:1 which states, “…let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.”
“Knowing that you are not out there just doing it for yourself [is comforting],” Anderson said.
A member of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, Anderson reads Christian devotionals before each race, finding strength in the text.
“[I read one] which talked about in your moments of weakness, know you are not alone. And when you are reading it, it is always encouraging because there are so many times during a race when you are like ‘I cannot run another step.’”
Twice a week, the junior truly wants to be alone. On early morning runs, Anderson leaves her teammates and her watch to train on a trail she has run hundreds of times. She knows how long it will take her to complete, and where every turn begins.
“To just run alone, by yourself in the morning, and to think about the day, it kind of reminds you why you run,” Anderson said.
Beyond the College, the junior aspires to run professionally, dreaming of a Nike sponsorship. Anderson feels that despite her initial love of sprinting, she has the most untapped potential in the 5,000-m.
For now, Anderson is happy being a top NCAA competitor. According to Head Coach Kathy Newberry, Anderson is absolutely on schedule to surpass last season’s times and believes that Anderson will be able to compete in both the 1,500-m and 5,000-m at regionals, before selecting one in which to specialize for nationals.
Without running, Anderson is uncertain of what her life would be like.
“I don’t think I would be here. I do not know, maybe I would be doing badminton,” Anderson said, laughing.
Badminton was the sport she considered leaving track for during her freshman year of high school.
And as for the tattoo, Anderson told her friends that she would only get inked if she became an All-American.
“It was completely a joke,” Anderson said. Yet after placing fifth at NCAAs last June in the 1500-m, she could no longer exclude herself from that category.
“When my friend called me, she didn’t even congratulate me on the race,” Anderson recalls. “She was like, ‘So, am I coming with you to the parlor?’”
Naturally, the tattoo is of a runner.