Thursday, March 20, 2014

Samatha Rivard: From Walk On to Champion

Samatha Rivard runs to the finish at Nationals
University of Minnesota Duluth's 21-year-old freshman Samatha Rivard has gone from being a walk on to winning the NCAA DII Indoor mile championship. When she graduated from St. Francis High School, a future as a distance runner was not high on the to do list.

She played sports because her parents wanted her to participate.  She wrestled, played hockey, and ran.  "In high school I never thought I'd end up being a runner," Rivard said.  "I quit cross country one year and played soccer," Rivard said.  "I don't think my (cross country)coach was too happy with me."  She found the practices uninspiring, even tedious.  So, when it came time to look for a college, athletics was not high on her criteria of what to look for in a school

"I really didn't put  much thought into it," she said of her choice of Bemidji State.  "It was a smaller school.  I'd heard good things about it." After a year in Bemidji and running as a "walk on" there, Rivard's goals shifted.  She wanted something more.  In the same conference, Rivard caught the attention of Joanna Warmington, the UMD coach.  "Duluth's team is way bigger," Rivard said.  "She(Warmington) gave me a shot."

Because of NCAA eligibility rules, Rivard had to sit out a year before she could run for UMD. She could work out with the team, but had to drive herself to meets, and couldn't have a team uniform or equipment.  Cross country season in 2013 was Rivard's first chance to run for the team and she made the most of it, helping the team qualify for nationals and earning All American honors once she got there.

"Coach told me that I surprised her(by making All American)," Rivard said.  She added that she went into the race confident that she would finish in the top 25, possibly the top ten even though this was her first chance at a major meet(she finished 8th).  After cross country Rivard went to Warmington's office to talk about plans for the indoor season.  Warmington asked her what she wanted to do indoors: the  mile, the 3K, 5K?  "I don't know, let's try them all," Rivard said.  "I just want to win something."

Win something she did.  Entered in both the mile and the 3K, Rivard got a call on day one of the meet, when the mile prelims were scheduled,  from her father, who wished her well.  Then, as Rivard was going to the line for the start of the mile prelims, she heard a familiar voice yelling encouragement to her.  The hairs on the back of my neck stood up," she said.  She looked around and there with two fists thrust up in the air was her dad, who along with her mother and brother had made a surprise trip to North Carolina to watch her run. "Now the pressure is really on," she thought to herself.

In the final the next day, Rivard hung back in third most of the race recalling how her dad had given her advice in high school for the State Meet to "sprint" the first lap and get out in front.  She did and eventually faded as the race went on.  She hadn't made that mistake since.  With two laps to go she picked off eventual runner-up Maura O'Brien of Adams State, and with a lap to go went after the leader Breanna Hemming of Metro State, who had finished just in front of her at cross country nationals.

Coming off the final turn, Rivard was picking up speed as Hemming was slowing down.  Hemming began to drift out of lane one as Rivard went by, then fell to the track as Rivard covered the final meters to take the win.  Rivard's brother came up to give his sister a congratulatory hug and said: "Did you push her?"

"I didn't even touch her," said Rivard.  Two hours and 15 minutes later she returned to the track to finish third in the 3K, only four seconds out of first.  Then she went with her family to TGI Fridays for a steak dinner. After that it was down to Florida for a brief Spring break in 75 degree temperatures.  On Friday outdoor track season will begin at the Florida State Relays in Tallahassee, Florida.

Then it's the long trip back to Minnesota.  From the sunlight, sand, and surf in Florida to eight feet of snow "in our back yard at home."  Back to the usual challenges and looking ahead to the rest of the outdoor season.

"I'm disciplined," says Rivard.  "I always want to push limits.  I want to challenge myself.  I'm not afraid to push myself."  Running legend Steve Prefontaine is her "hero," she says.  Outdoors she'll sample different distances from the 1,500 to the 10K, even the steeple.  Figure out what event or events suit her best.  And if the opportunity presents itself, try and "win something" again.

1 comment:

Rachel Elizabeth said...

Not surprising at all. From watching her in high school this all (from her attitude to competitiveness to talent) seems perfectly believable!