FAIRMONT - University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire senior Jami Riley never thought she'd run anything greater than 200 meters.
When she was a sophomore in high school, Fairmont head coach Bob Bonk suggested cross country as a tool to improve for the spring track season, and running longer distances stuck.
"I started in track when I was really young, ran in a summer program and then went out for track in seventh and eighth grade," said Riley. "But I really liked sprinting, I never thought I'd run over 200 meters."
MAKING?STRIDES — University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire senior Jami Riley (front) races next to one of her teammates at the BluGold Invite on Oct. 4 at the Whitetail Golf Course in Colfax, Wis. (Photo Submitted by Jami Riley)
From there, cross country running helped Riley to build her endurance as she evolved into a middle distance runner.
"I moved up to middle distance in track, and ran the 800 and the 4x400 relay my last two years in high school track," said Riley. "We went to state as a team in cross country my junior and senior years, and the 4x800 relay made it all four years of high school."
That speed and endurance combination helped Riley to adjust to college athletics, and has helped her excel in her final season for the BluGolds.
"I think the biggest adjustment was probably just the training all-year round," said Riley. "We get a few weeks off after cross country season and a couple right after track, but mostly we are training every day."
This season the BluGolds senior has raced to a pair of top-75 finishes.
Riley finished 72nd out of 412 participants with a time of 24 minutes, 53.4 seconds in the 28th Annual University of Minnesota Roy Griak Invitational.
"That was the first time I had ever run the Griak race. It was such a hard course - just when you think you're done with the hills, there are more hills," said Riley.
A week later, Riley followed with a 35th-place finish out of 424 finishers with a time of 23:36.0 at the BluGold Invite.
"I think that the difference between practicing in college and high school is that in college everyone is so consistent," said Riley. "Each day there is some workout to do, or weight training. It makes everyone a better runner."
In addition to her athletics, Riley, who was a Triple 'A' Award winner at Fairmont High School, is still finding the balance between academics and athletics in college.
"There is added stress with being a college athlete, practices every day and meets almost every weekend," said Riley. "But being in a sport is also a stress reliever as well. I think overall it helps to keep me more organized because I have to be efficient with my time."
This season, despite the BluGolds graduating or losing six of their top seven runners to injuries, Riley and her teammates are hoping to make it back to the Division III NCAA National Championship Meet again.
"Our teams have been pretty good all four years that I've been here and last year we made it to nationals," said Riley. "After losing all those top girls, we knew that it would be a lot of pressure to run faster and fill their shoes, but I think that's good because it has pushed us."
Riley, along with the other BluGolds top runners, will take this weekend off from racing, to prepare for the following weekend, Nov. 2, and the Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference meet in River Falls, Wis.
"We rest this weekend so that hopefully we can run our best in the conference meet the following week," said Riley. "Our goal is to get into the top three teamwise, but the top seven individual runners on our team will race in the NCAA Regionals then two weeks later (Nov. 16). My goal is to be able to run that race."
Whatever the outcome of the next two weeks for Riley and the BluGolds, the senior will still have an opportunity to compete during track and field season in the spring.
"Track is what I went to college thinking that I would run, but the team aspect to cross county made me want to keep running even in college," said Riley. "I definitely don't sprint anymore, but running is too fun for me to ever give up."