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ND Cross Country: Heeder balances passions

Vicky Jacobsen | Monday, September 10, 2012

Sophomore Megan Heeder has already done some pretty impressive things in her life. Aside from running at a Division I level, she’s performed at Carnegie Hall as a member of a Grammy Award-winning children’s choir and competed in international-level equestrian events.

But most impressive may be the fact she finds time for eight hours of sleep a night.

“I’m really good at time management,” Heeder said. “When I was in high school, I would have school, and then I would have cross country practice. And then I would go home, pack dinner and eat dinner and do homework in the car on the way to the barn. I’d get home at 10:30 to 11:30, depending on when I finished at the barn, and then I’d finish homework and go to bed. And that was every day.”

Heeder’s schedule has only gotten busier since she arrived at Notre Dame. She sings in Breen-Phillips Hall’s Mass on Sundays, takes voice lessons and gives riding lessons to two twin girls. She is a member of the Dean’s Fellows, a group that organizes intellectual discussions on campus and contributes to Scientia, the undergraduate research journal for the College of Science.

Heeder volunteers with Hannah and Friends, an organization that works to improve the lives of those with special needs, and starting this semester she’ll be reading – in Spanish – with a Perley Elementary student once a week as part of the Read to a Child program.

And she’ll be doing all this in addition to cross country practice and a full school workload.

Although she came to campus as a biology major, Heeder’s decision to join Notre Dame’s Program of Liberal Studies would not surprise anyone who knew her as a kid.

“I have always liked reading and writing,” Heeder said. “When I was little, I would hide out in the library instead of going to recess because I just wanted to read all the time.”

Heeder might have seemed destined to become a runner, but it was her bookish tendencies that eventually spurred her to take up the sport.

“My mom ran every day that she was pregnant with me, and I started running with my dad a little bit in fifth and sixth grade, then I decided I didn’t want to do it anymore,” Heeder said. “I picked it up in high school because I wanted to be able to fit more honors classes in my schedule and if I didn’t have to take gym class I would have a free period. The way I could get out of gym class was by doing a sport for two seasons.”

Although cross country might have started as a way to avoid gym class, Heeder says the sport has become a big part of her identity – and a big responsibility.

“When I was in high school, I never even knew if I would run in college,” Heeder said. “It was just an idea. Running is fun, but it’s a Division I sport and it’s a team of really, really good girls. It’s a responsibility that I have. I need to eat correctly, sleep correctly, train correctly and be willing to do that every day all the time to perform well.”

Though riding used to be a priority of Heeder’s, she says the importance of riding and running have flip-flopped since she started college.

“Riding always, always, always came first,” Heeder said. “I started riding when I was six, and I just loved it more than anything else. Now riding’s role in my life has really changed. Going out to the barn to work with the girls is a job, but I’m lucky enough that it’s an escape. I can just forget about school, so riding is more of an escape. I love being around the horses. Horses have very unique personalities.”

Heeder says one of the pieces of advice that has helped her most on the course and on horseback came from her time as a member of the prestigious Michigan State University Children’s Choir, which was founded and directed by Mary Alice Stollak.

“She always told us that the mark of a true professional is that they’re always the same and they’re always consistent,” Heeder said. “And that’s something that I always try every assignment I turn in, every time I sing, every time I run: if you’re a professional, you’re consistent.”