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ND Cross Country: Rydberg leads Irish into regionals

Aaron Sant-Miller | Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Running has a unique meaning to everyone. To some, it is torture, while to others, it is life’s greatest pleasure. To Irish junior Jessica Rydberg, it is something a little different.

“Running is my escape from the world and society — just everything that we have to do,” Rydberg said.

In fact, what she loves most about running is unique in its own way too.

“I think [my favorite part of running] is going through really hard workouts, pushing through the pain, the suffering and having my teammates there with me,” Rydberg said. “It’s great knowing you are pushing each other to be better and stronger every day and knowing you are getting better and stronger every day.”

Yet these hard workouts have not been something Rydberg has had the luxury of experiencing her whole time at Notre Dame. After a successful freshman season, Rydberg suffered a sacral stress fracture in October of her sophomore year. As a result, she was unable to compete her entire sophomore campaign.

“It was really hard to watch the team compete without me and not be able to help the team the way I knew I could,” Rydberg said. 

For many athletes, that feeling of helplessness can be overwhelming and can sometimes even damage their career going forward. But Rydberg saw it a different way.

“It really made me appreciate the ability I have and how much I was taking for granted,” Rydberg said. “In fact, it was definitely refreshing, in kind of a hard way.”

Going forward, Rydberg had the hard task of bouncing back.

“Coming back into this season, I just really wanted to stay healthy and run every workout like it’s my last one,” Rydberg said. “Because it might be.”

Clearly, this approach has benefitted her as she has continued her success this year. In the Big East championships, Rydberg finished 18th in a field of 138 runners and led the Irish for the fifth consecutive race.

Rydberg managed to set the bar pretty high for herself as a freshman, racing in four cross country events. In the spring of her freshman year, she earned All-American honors on the outdoor track team and placed 10th at the NCAA championships in the 10-kilometer race with a time of 33:34.60 as the only freshman in the 24-member field. Her time is currently the fourth-fastest in Notre Dame program history. When asked about it, the event goes down as her favorite running memory.

“Hayward Field is pretty much the Mecca of track running,” Rydberg said. “I ran a really good race and it was just an amazing experience.”

Going forward, the rest of the women runners are looking up as well. 

“We started off the season really well at National and Catholic and since then we’ve been working out really hard. This is probably the fittest our team has ever been,” Rydberg said. “However, there is still a lot of room to grow.

“I don’t think we’ve reached to our full potential yet, both as a team or individually. Hopefully, we can show what we’ve worked so hard for at regionals and then at nationals.”

Rydberg obviously does not shy away from pointing out the team’s goals.

“We want to win regionals and then I think a spot in the top 15 at nationals is a good goal for us,” Rydberg said.

This upcoming weekend they will try just that, as Rydberg and the team will travel to Toledo, Ohio, for the Great Lakes Regional competition Saturday.

Contact Aaron Saint-Miller at asantmil@nd.edu