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Cross country a natural for former soccer player
By Jeff Febus

Gretchen BraymerFor a converted soccer player, senior Gretchen Braymer has found a strong fit as a collegiate distance runner. A native of Erie, Pa., Braymer has also found a strong fit as a student-athlete.

Braymer began her career in athletics as a freshman soccer player at Strong Vincent High School but began thinking about distance running after turning in strong times in a pre-season distance conditioning test with the soccer team. “I ended up running on the track team later that spring, and when my sophomore fall semester came around, I was still thinking about running.” Braymer actually helped organize Strong Vincent’s cross country team that fall.

“I just liked running more,” said Braymer. “I saw more opportunity for growth and success which was appealing to me.”

When it came time to choose a college, Calvin’s strong distance running program also was appealing.“My parents encouraged me to visit, and when I did, I was very impressed with the cross country programs,” she said. “I was so impressed that I chose the school without even meeting the coaching staff. I felt led here and when I look back, I think it was definitely God leading me here.”

During the spring of her sophomore year, she qualified for the NCAA III Outdoor Track and Field Championships in the 3,000 meter steeplechase. As a junior, she cracked the top seven on the cross country team that finished third in the nation and then qualified once again for track nationals in the steeplechase. This fall, Braymer found herself leading a suddenly young cross country team. She took the leadership opportunity to heart, putting in more miles during her personal summer workouts than she had ever done before.

“I averaged around 75 miles a week this summer,” said Braymer. “I wanted to make my senior year of cross country my best one.”

Braymer did just that, taking third individually at the MIAA cross country championships to help the Knights edge rival Hope 31-33 for the league title and earning a spot on the All-MIAA first team for the second straight year. The following week, she helped Calvin capture the Great Lakes Regional crown for the third straight season as she finished 10th individually to earn a spot on the All-Region team for the second straight year. At the NCAA III Championships, she had her best national finish, placing 61st.

“I think the greatest attribute that Gretchen brings to our program is her determination,” said Calvin head cross country coach Brian Diemer.“The old saying ‘where there’s a will, there’s a way’ is true with her. She has willed her way into nationals in track a couple of times, and this year she helped will our cross country team to league and regional championships.”

A three-time member of the MIAA Academic Honor Roll and a consistent member of Calvin’s Dean’s List, Braymer is majoring in elementary education while holding minors in science, mathematics, language arts and English as a second language.

Braymer will student teach next fall and has applied for the Memphis Teacher Residency Program through Union University in Memphis, Tenn. “Urban education and education reform are two things that I am very passionate about,” said Braymer. “There is a big push to improve the educational opportunities for students in urban schools, and I want to be a part of that reforming process.”

As for her own career as a Calvin student-athlete, Braymer admits that her time as a Calvin Knight has changed her life. “The priority of our cross country coaching staff is not to just make us the best runner that we can be, but more importantly, to make us the best person we can through Christ,” said Braymer.“My professors and even more so, my coaches have really shaped me into who I am today. Our team likes to use the biblical model of the vine and the branches, pruning away the parts that we do not need. Running at Calvin has given me the opportunity to do that. It’s been a great way of learning how to be like Christ.”