A long cascade of curls crowned by a bow — don’t let it fool you. The girl with the bow in her hair is not what she seems. If you pull back the smiles and the hugs, high-fives, handshakes and humble shrugs, you get something else: A born winner, one of the greatest in William and Mary history.
This outdoor track season, senior distance runner Elaina Balouris will have the opportunity to become the school’s most decorated athlete of all time. Balouris is already a five-time All-American — two times in cross-country and three times in track. She wears her laurels lightly, however, as any of her teammates would attest.
“She’s the best,” sophomore distance runner Emily Stites said. “She’s so outgoing and always willing to help somebody. She’s obviously a very elite athlete in her own right, but she looks out for everyone on the team, treats everyone as an equal.”
Balouris’ good-natured character is part of what makes her such a great runner, providing her with balance in a sport where athletes often flame out. Indeed, Balouris’s miraculous string of health during her collegiate career is a testament to the lifestyle she has cultivated, one that has helped her improve year after year as a member of the Tribe.
“She’s meticulous about her training, but not obsessive about her training, which puts her into a nice balanced place,” assistant coach Jill Miller said. “She sleeps very well, she eats very well, which is probably why she’s been so consistent in her career. Going back to her freshman year, she’s steadily gotten better every year.”
Balouris came in as a relatively unheralded recruit out of Allison Park, Pa., but her mindset and natural talent have separated her and made her a leader on the team. Balouris attributes much of her own development over the past few years to Stites, whose talent has pushed her to work even harder. Even though they consistently compete with each other during races, the two see each other as “running-buddies,” not rivals.
“[Stites is] one of my closest friends,” Balouris said. “We have a very supportive relationship. We both have strengths and weaknesses that we both understand and that we help each other with.”
For someone with so much pride in her team, Balouris’s last season is bittersweet. While her post-graduation plan of getting her master’s degree in education at Boston College is looming around the corner, Balouris’s best running is likely still to come.
Last Friday night at the Colonial Relays, Balouris flashed a promise of what could be in store later. Edging out Stites by less than a second, Balouris won the 5,000-meter race in a time of 15:56.85, the second-fastest outdoor time in the National Collegiate Athletic Association so far. The victory was especially impressive because it came during a month of heavy mileage training.
Balouris’ season arcs toward the NCAA outdoor championships in early June. The rarified air she’s reached has also amplified expectations for her season, expectations that she relishes the opportunity to reach. Regardless of what she accomplishes in the meantime, Balouris’ season will largely be judged by her performance in the outdoor championships, most likely in the 10,000-meters. Last year, Balouris finished 10th at the NCAAs in the 10,000-meters. Balouris is unequivocal about what motivates her to succeed in a sport that demands so much energy and exhaustion.
“I just think of Nationals,” Balouris said. “When there are days that I don’t want to run, I just think about how great it’s going to be when I get to Nationals. It’ll be the best race of the season.”
The most accomplished distance runner in school history is taking her last lap this season. Stites, who is already a three-time All-American, laughs as she admits her debt to her “running-buddy.”
“I owe her,” Stites said.
It’s a sentiment any Tribe fan can understand.