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Cross country runner finds her place at Calvin
By Lynn Rosendale

Jesi HaleJesi Hale has no doubt that Calvin College is where God wants her to be —  now. She didn’t always feel that way, though. The Rehoboth N.M., junior transferred to Calvin after a year at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C.

“My mom went to Calvin and everyone around Rehoboth kept telling me that Calvin was a great school,” said Hale. “I didn’t disagree that it was; I just didn’t want to go where everyone else was going.”

As a successful distance runner in high school first at Rehoboth Christian and then at Gallup High School, Hale walked on to the cross country team at Georgetown as a freshman.  But an injury forced her to redshirt her first year, and Hale began to think that perhaps her running days were over.

“The injury was tough, and I really was getting farther and farther away from running,” she said. After deciding to switch majors, Hale needed to re-evaluate her place at Georgetown along with her running career.

After narrowing her transfer search down to Northern Arizona University and Calvin, Hale chose Calvin and left open the option of running again.

“I knew it was going to be really difficult to get back into, but a couple of weeks into the season I knew that I would love it. I love my teammates; everyone meshes together here so well. When I transferred to Calvin, I didn’t really realize how good the team here was,” she said. “I realized pretty quickly that it was going to be a big challenge to get up in the pack and stay up in the pack here.”

Being a part of the pack is exactly what Hale has done the past three years at Calvin. An All-MIAA runner the past two seasons, Hale has helped lead the Knights to a top-four national finish each of the last three years, including a runner-up finish this year.

Despite Calvin’s competitive finishes, it is a lack of competitiveness between teammates that makes the program successful, she said.

“A characteristic of Division I programs is that it is very competitive between individuals,” she said. “At Calvin it is so much more about running with teammates and a pack,” Hale said. “When it works out like it’s supposed to you pull teammates with you and push other teammates ahead of you. It’s a whole team thing.”

It was a team mentality that boosted the Knights to a number-one national ranking for most of this year.  The day of the finals was a huge roller coaster of emotion, she said. 

“We went into the race with winning as our goal,” she said. “We knew we had the talent and ability to make that happen. But in every race someone is going to have a good day and someone is going to have a bad day. You don’t usually have everyone run a great race on the same day, so even for a great team with the ability, things have to go well in order to win. For us, it wasn’t quite there that day. Still, we had to feel happy taking second.”

But not happy enough to avoid setting a goal of winning a national championship next year. “We have such a deep team,” said Hale. “We have so many runners just outside of the top seven ready to come in. You can see so much progress in every runner; it’s what propels you.”

A love of running keeps you going, too, she said. “That’s what I really, really like about Division III,” she said. “Everyone on my team has made the decision to run because they enjoy it; it’s something we choose to do because we think it’s fun. At Division I people are begin paid to run. I think that is a big difference.”

With one year of eligibility left, Hale plans to return for another run at a national championship next year as well as two more seasons of track. She will graduate in 2010 with a degree in exercise science with plans to attend graduate school in physical therapy.

“Calvin is a really good place to be a student-athlete,” she said. “It provides the opportunity to compete as well as providing quality academics. Anybody who has the opportunity to be successful in both of these areas should consider Calvin.”