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College Athletics: Run With Your High School Passion

If you really want something, what’s stopping you from going after it?

High school is a time where many students become involved in organized sports. However, after high school, many of these students end their athletic careers, believing that they can’t handle the college athlete lifestyle, or feeling as though they aren’t “good enough.” Such is not the case. I sat down with Boston University Women’s Cross Country (BUWXC) captain Gabrielle DiRenzo, a walk-on athlete turned team star, to talk a little about pursuing college athletics in the face of doubt.

DiRenzo started competitively running 8 years ago. In 8th grade, her school started a cross country program and she and a few friends joined it just for fun. Now, she excels on the trails, the track, in the classroom, and as the leader of a powerful squad of female runners.

Fit U: What made you want to pursue college athletics?
DiRenzo: I had a small program in high school, but was lucky enough to find a friend who was just as passionate about running as I was. The only difference was that she was amazing and I was only above-average (4:58 mile personal record versus 5:31). I realized I wasn’t ready to give up the sport of xc/tf as I watched my friend go through the D1 recruitment process. I knew the best option for me was to apply to my academic dream schools (regardless of running), and hope that their coach would consider me as a walk-on. 

Walk-On Athletics

Fit U: What was the walk on process like?
DiRenzo: Funny actually. I contacted Bruce (the cross country coach at BU) with a well thought out plea asking to be considered as a walk-on the night after I got my acceptance letter from BU, explaining how I knew my PR’s weren’t quick but I came from a small program with low mileage. I proofread it about 500 times. SIX MINUTES after I sent it, he responded “Sure, we’d love to have you join our team.” And that was that! Usually that’s how the walk-on process goes, but most coaches take longer to respond than 6 minutes! Email the coach your best times and tell them about your interests in the team.
Fit U: How did college athletics shape your early college experiences?
DiRenzo: An amazing aspect is the ever-lasting friendships you gain.  I’m so grateful to be surrounded by people with similar passions, work ethic, interests, and drives. The BU athletics department also does a really impressive job at helping freshman (or any aged newcomer) adjust to the life of a student athlete. It was super helpful academically as well, because my program doesn’t fool around with academics. There’s no room to become a slacker when all your friends are hard workers — shoutout to the women’s BUXC team for averaging a 3.5 last semester!
Walk-On Athletics 2
Fit U: Do you believe there is a divide between recruited and walk-on athletes?
DiRenzo: No, especially here at BUXC. Bruce cares so much about each and every athlete. He treats our fastest and slowest teammates with equal respect and confidence in their abilities. We don’t actively acknowledge who is on a scholarship and who is not. We’re just a group of girls passionate about becoming the best runner we can be. To the best of my knowledge, that’s how most teams and coaches are.
Fit U: What’s the hardest part of being a student athlete? Additionally, what’s the best part? 
DiRenzo: I think the hardest part about being a student athlete is the pressure that comes along with wearing “Boston” across your chest. A lot of times you’ll hear people say “I let everyone down,” or, “Everyone was counting on me” after a bad race. At the end of the day we’re all here because we love to run and we love to race. But as a student athlete, sometimes that passion gets distorted. For me, as a walk-on, the best part about being a student athlete is the resources. I never would have become the athlete I am without this program, Bruce, and his coaching. 
Walk-On Athletics 3
Fit U: Do you have any memorable experiences from college athletics you’d like to share? 
DiRenzo: During my freshman year, Bruce pulled me aside after a workout and said “Gabby, you know who you remind me of? Mary.” He explained that, “Mary was an olympic marathoner that I coached years ago. You know how some people are super gifted athletes from the time they were born? Mary wasn’t. Mary was really really bad at running without all of her training. She really had to work for the shape she was in. She was not a ’natural runner’. You remind me of Mary. You’re not in great shape right now, but if you put the time and effort into your training, I think you can be a decent runner some day.” Although that sounds trivial to some, those words from Bruce meant the world to me. I’ve worked really consistently and remained confident in my training and effort. I’ve shaved 3 minutes off of my 5k PR since I had that conversation with him 2 years ago. Having a coach and teammates who are confident in your abilities is very important in the world of racing. 
As for advice on joining college athletics, Gabby encourages high school athletes to take a chance and also be confident in themselves and their abilities.
“Reach out to the coach. Meet the team. Feel the vibes. If it feels right, GO FOR IT!!  A lot of times people get too nervous to reach out. Don’t be! Teams and coaches love welcoming new runners!! Also, and most importantly, don’t let the thought of “being slow” stop you from reaching out. Also, look at a recent meet the team ran, and if your PR is similar or slightly slower, the coach will most likely let you walk on! With the resources of a college team, you will become a better athlete!”

Author Casey Douglas

Casey Douglas is a junior year at Boston University, where she studies public relations and anthropology. In her free time, she enjoys lifting weights, getting lost on runs in the city, and eating grapes. Casey hopes to one day work in the communications industry and represent a company in the field of health and fitness.

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