Written by Student Assistant Chelsea Flintoft '14
After eight years of gymnastics and kung fu martial arts, most people would want to take a break from intense competition. That is not the case for Santa Clara University freshman Erin Hicks. Hicks will run this weekend at the West Coast Conference Championships in Crystal Springs, Calif.
Instead of sitting back and relaxing during her last two years of high school, this Los Altos, Calif. native decided to try long distance running. After realizing that she wasn't half-bad, Hicks chose to stick with the sport.
"Unlike gymnastics, which is so stressful, running is an awesome way to destress," said Hicks. "You are not going to fall on your back and break your neck at any second. Going to practice just to chat it up with friends for an hour or so while exploring some great trail and getting some fresh air is a lot more fun than being cramped up inside a gym all day."
During her two years of cross country in high school, Erin won the league meet her senior year, then moved on to become one of the few individuals from Los Altos High School to qualify for the state championships. She credits much of her success to her coach, Stanford All-American PattiSue Plummer, who participated in the 1988 and '92 Summer Olympics, and the fact that she mainly ran with boys because her high school did not have an official girls' team.
Hicks also ran the mile and two-mile for track, but prefers cross country overall: "I've always been more of a long-distance girl. I don't see why people would want to run in so many circles like a hamster when you could be out on a trail with way better scenery, less loops, and some hills thrown in to keep it interesting."
Choosing to come to and run for Santa Clara was an easy decision for Hicks. The great team atmosphere and superior coaching staff along with a good balance between athletics and academics is the perfect fit.
"I decided to run for Santa Clara because I really liked Coach Tom Service. I prefer cross country to track and everyone said Tom was the kind of coach who focused on cross country and talked about track as great preparation for a better cross country season," said Hicks.
"Also, Tom came to a lot of my meets and told me about what a great balance of academics and athletics Santa Clara has. He invited me to come see the campus on a recruiting trip and after staying overnight, meeting the team, everyone was so nice and I just knew this was the place I wanted to be."
Even at an early stage in her career, it is easy to see her dedication and commitment to the team and running. "In high school I was always running for myself because we didn't have much of a girls team. But here at Santa Clara it is all about the team and scoring points so that Santa Clara can place better. When I see a girl ahead of me, I literally am thinking 'Come on, take one for the team.' It really does help because I don't want to let my teammates down. It's them I'm running for, not me."
Her favorite moment so far during the 2010 season was when the team took a trip to Camp Jones Gulch during preseason and completed a ropes course together. Hicks says, "It helped build trust and everyone – especially us freshmen – really got to know each other."
She also enjoys the pre-meet rituals when a couple girls perform an "inspirational" and come up with some kind of treat and a pep talk to share with the rest of the team right before the race starts.
But Hicks still admits that the transition from high school to colligate running is difficult. What caught her most by surprise was the level of intensity. "We do a lot more mileage here than in high school. We run basically everyday, and even have required cross training-biking or swimming—to supplement our running with."
Now that she is here on campus and the cross country season is almost over, Hicks says her goals as a freshman are just to run as fast as she can. She successfully ran a 22:23 at the Stanford Invitational, but she says she can do much better.
"Coming into the season I'd never run a 6k race before, so I had no idea what I was capable of. Also, I've never experienced the intensity of collegiate level training. So coming in to this season I had no idea how fast I could run with the kind of training we do under my belt."
Academically, as a mechanical engineer major, Hicks hopes to keep up a good GPA throughout her four years and try to get a solid foundation to set herself up for graduate school.
Hicks comments on the near end of the cross country season saying, "I am not looking forward to the end of the season. I am going to be very sad when cross country is over. However, for postseason, I mainly hope to stay in as good of shape as I can and not lose all the fitness I worked so hard to build up over this cross country season. I really want to get some good training in over the winter so I can come into the track season strong and have a profitable season. In general, over the next three seasons, I hope to stay healthy so I can keep running and racing in peak form."
With as much success as she has enjoyed throughout her first year, it will be exciting to see what Hicks has in store for us in the next three years.