Senior Gabriella Kreuz almost accepted her fate with one mile left during last Saturday’s NCAA Great Lakes Regional Championships in Grand Rapids, Mich.
But Kreuz refused to end her cross country career at John Carroll with a loss. Drawing from deep within, the senior instead made the 6K race the most memorable of her JCU career by capturing a bid to the NCAA National Championships this Saturday in Hanover, Ind.
Dealing with a sinus infection, lack of sleep and fatigue, Kreuz was stressed heading into the race. She still started well, finding herself on the verge of a Nationals bid entering the last mile.
Kreuz’s coaches and fans shouted instructions to her. She could not allow an opposing runner to pass her in order to make the trip to Hanover, Ind. on Saturday. But Meredith Busman, a runner from Hope College, soon passed Kreuz.
“I had accepted my fate a little bit. ‘This is all I have right now, I’m just going to stay where I am,’” Kreuz recalled. “I wasn’t aggressive enough to pass her back at that moment, but … I was thinking, ‘I still have a shot if I don’t let her get away because I can beat her down the straightaway.”
Kreuz kept it close, and made the decision to make one last kick.
“Once I hit 1,000 meters, that’s where I planned on making a move,” Kreuz said. “I knew I could just sprint it home and exhaust myself.”
The seasoned runner succeeded, passing Busman and even Alyssa Oman from Calvin College to capture 13th place and a trip to the National Championships.
“I just remember crossing the finish line, and this guy picked me up and took me to the tent. At that point, I didn’t care,” said Kreuz.
Family, teammates and coaches swarmed Kreuz. Her dad expressed disbelief, asking for official confirmation before celebrating. Her mom cried, leading Kreuz to shed tears as well. But the words of a stranger touched Kreuz the most.
Many in the cross country community were shaken on Aug. 31, 2013, when Wilmington College junior Jenna Parlette collapsed at the Franklin Invitational in Indiana. The Miamisburg, Ohio native, who also struggled with epilepsy, passed away three days later.
The Ohio Athletic Conference responded by distributing purple bracelets with the phrase #JENNASTRONG to all of its runners. JCU even dedicated its season to Parlette.
“After the race, Mrs. Parlette – I didn’t know who she was, I had never seen her – came over to me and said, ‘Hey Gab, I just know you from watching you run over the years, being up in the pack next to Jenna. I just wanted to tell you I admire your competitive edge and you remind me of my daughter.’
“I was crying even more and we were hugging,” Kreuz said.
Kreuz conquered her adversity just like Jenna Parlette did, following Parlette’s motto, “Run with your legs, win with your heart.”
“[Kreuz] has had to face a lot of adversity in a ton of different ways,” JCU head coach Dara Ford said. “To see her come out and run as well as she did … was really impressive.”
And Kreuz still has one more race to win with her heart.
Editor’s Note: Since the publication of this piece, Kreuz ran at Nationals and became the first JCU cross country runner since 2005 to be an All-American. Her 26th place finish, out of 280 runners in the 6K race, made her the top runner in all of the OAC. The full story on her finish at Nationals can be found here: http://jcusports.com/news/2013/11/23/WXC_1123132058.aspx