Huntington, Ind.— Nicole Jacob has spent the past three cross country seasons cheering her teammates on from the sidelines at the NAIA Cross Country National Championships. Now a senior, Jacob has positioned herself in a class with the best and will toe the line on Saturday to run in her first national championship race – without her teammates.
The territory may be unfamiliar, but Jacob’s senior year has boosted her on the road to a successful running season. Consistently running third for the team all year, Jacob burst into the limelight at the NAIA Region VIII Championships as the Foresters top runner that day. Her time of 19 minutes, 41 seconds was not only a career best time by over 20 seconds, but catapulted her into the national championship race in Louisville, Ky.
The regional meet proved to be bittersweet, though, as the Foresters missed team qualification to nationals by one spot.
“I never thought I would qualify individually,” said Jacob, a psychology and sociology double major from Van Wert, Ohio. “There were expectations that our team would qualify together, which is what I focused on during the race.”
Jacob didn’t find out the good news about her individual qualification until the day after the meet, when the individual qualification list was posted to the NAIA web site.
“I was very happy, but at the same time I had so many mixed emotions because the team wasn’t going,” remembered Jacob. “I originally thought I had run my last cross country race and was saddened by our disappointment on that day.”
But for Jacob, second chances do come around. In one year’s time, she has gone from running eighth or ninth for the team, when only seven earn the chance to run at nationals, to being a team leader by example. Jacob ran a whole two minutes faster on average this cross country season, and she credits it to the changes that were made to her training during the track season last spring.
“Coach King changed my workouts pretty extremely,” said Jacob, whose track events changed from long distance to middle distance. “That allowed me to have a great indoor and outdoor track season which carried into the summer and boosted my confidence. The season was mentally encouraging as the combination of speed mixed with endurance seemed to work for me.”
For some, several seasons filled with average times would be a reason to call it quits, but for Jacob that was never an option. With a love for running and a determination to improve, she persevered through all the frustration and disappointment.
“I just loved it too much to quit,” she said. “God gave me a passion for running. It’s a great feeling physically and mentally to know that you can go out and run 10 miles or five miles. And our team is definitely a huge part of what makes running so great and enjoyable.”
During her struggle to run at the level she wanted, Jacob learned the most important part of her running journey at Huntington hasn’t been the countless miles, but rather the lessons God has taught her along the way.
“I think God has definitely taught me patience, especially during the first few years,” said Jacob. “It was frustrating. He’s taught me patience and perseverance and a lot about being encouraging to others. I can contribute more to the team than just times. He taught me that running is not the most important thing in life. My relationship with God is better than anything I can accomplish with running.”
Not only has Jacob gained much from combining her faith with her running, but she also credits Huntington College for giving her the opportunities and experiences necessary to learn how to integrate her faith with her studies. Looking back, she’s especially grateful to the HC professors.
“I think the professors here have certainly done a great job integrating the educational aspect with the Christian faith,” said Jacob, who desires to pursue a master’s degree in educational counseling after graduation. “They’ve challenged me a lot to think about issues and how to deal with them when practicing counseling. They’ve been an amazing influence.”
Running at Huntington also allowed Jacob to develop her leadership abilities. She says that all three seniors on this year’s cross country team have learned to be leaders and make decisions together.
“I have the opportunity to be a leader with running,” she said. “Coach King has high expectations for all runners, but particularly seniors. He expects them to set the example and tone for the program.”
Jacob’s expectations going into the national meet Saturday aren’t any higher than they were for the regional. No matter the outcome, she’s already accomplished a lot in just getting there.
“I would love to have another personal best - to make my time better,” she said. “There are girls from our conference that I would like to step up and run with.”
The women’s race of the NAIA Cross Country National Championships will begin at 10:30 a.m., Saturday, November 22. Results will be posted online at www.naia.org.
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