Back On The Run
Tommy Gruenewald says the "Stotan" approach to life and training taught him by Fayetteville-Manlius Coach Bill Aris correlates to his experience at Brigham Young University.
Gruenewald, a junior for the Cougars’ cross-country team, is plugging himself back into the program this fall after a two-year mission for the Mormon Church. He finished 18th Saturday at the Bill Dellinger Invitational, hosted by the University of Oregon in nearby Springfield, and was the ninth member of his team to reach the finish line on the eight-kilometer course on a warm autumn morning here at the Springfield Country Club. BYU, ranked third nationally, won the race 32-49 over Oregon.
Gruenewald was a two-time Foot Locker finalist and the runner-up in the first Nike Cross Nationals in 2004 for F-M. He was also two-time New York outdoor champion in the 3,200 meters. With those credentials, he spent his freshman season, 2007-08, at Stanford.
"I feel like the same culture we cultivated in New York has been brought to this team in its own way," Gruenewald said. "It feels that same way to me, and that's why I love it."
The Dellinger Invitational was a breast-cancer-awareness event, and many of the runners wore pink ribbons or pink headbands. (Oregon donned special gray-and-pink singlets). Gruenewald ran particularly for his mother, Marcia, who died of breast cancer when he was 12.
She raised her children Catholic, but after her death "we kind-of opened to whatever."
Gruenewald soon became committed to his high school coach's Percy Cerutty-styled training system, named after the legendary Aussie coach.
"There was something really special on that (F-M) team. It was pure and clean and hard-working," Gruenewald said.
He was recruited to Stanford and spent his freshman year there. He also met missionaries from the Church of Jesus Christ-Latter Day Saints and converted to the church. With the retirement of his coach at Stanford, Gruenewald felt the time was right to transfer.
He spent a year and a half in the Cougars’ program before taking two years off for his mission in northern Utah. When he came back to school last January, he missed a deadline and decided to spend the spring back in upstate New York, where he trained for re-entry into BYU's cross-country program.
"Honestly, my faith is right in line with Stotanism," he said. "I still live the pure lifestyle, no drinking or drugs, just lots of hard work."
Gruenewald hasn't returned to tip-top shape yet, but he's part of a deep team that has its sights set on competing for the NCAA title.
It reminds him of the 2004 and 2005 F-M teams, only on a larger scale. "We had five, six, seven guys who were interchangeable," Gruenewald said.
He said F-M's continued success on the national level — particularly with multiple national championships for the girls — is a source of pride.
"It brings me a lot of joy," he said. "I feel like I really know what that team's all about. It's love and hard work and discipline. It makes me feel really good to see (people) who really stand for something."
Ivy Leaguer debuts with win for Oregon
Forty-five minutes after the initial questions, Alexi Pappas still had one more thing to say: "Tell the people at Dartmouth that I love them!"
Pappas, a fifth-year grad student who transferred to Oregon, is still reaping the rewards from her time at Dartmouth College in New Hampshire. She began an interdisciplinary master's degree program last week in Eugene and is one of nine finalists for the NCAA's Woman of the Year Award.
Pappas also brings serious credentials to the Oregon program. She was third in the NCAA steeplechase last June and has a PR in the event of 9:55.89.
On Saturday, in her first meet in an Oregon singlet, she pulled away from Oregon teammate Jordan Hasay and Washington’s Christine Babcock to win the 5,000-meter race in 16:23, tying the course record.
"I'm honored to be at Oregon," she said. "The team welcomed me in a way that was truly incredible, and the whole program is a moving train that I feel lucky to be able to join." The Oregon women’s team is currently ranked No. 3 nationally.
Pappas, originally from the Bay Area, is studying creative writing, film and entrepreneurial business at Oregon. She had the option of following her passion for poetry to one of several esteemed programs, but the opportunity to compete one final year with a team was too good to pass up.
"I'm really proud to have developed as an athlete as an undergrad but also as a well-rounded person," Pappas said. "I think those other endeavors balance out the athletics really well because you can't be running 24 hours a day. Having an outlet — academics or community service or leadership — is really what keeps me happy."
Pappas also plans to use her year at Oregon to explore her potential as an athlete.
"In Eugene, I would say I'm trying to focus on the academics and athletics. Having a chance to put more time into (fewer) activities is really going to benefit me," she said. "I have already seen how I can put an hour extra into practice and take an ice bath, and have the space to explore the sport a little more and not feel like I have to run to a rehearsal."
Oregon's roster has a growing contingent of athletes with New York/New Jersey ties.
Sophomore Megan Patrignelli (Monroe-Woodbury, Central Valley, N.Y.) said she has found a new home on the West Coast.
"I love everything about (Eugene)," she said. "It was hard because I'm a homebody type. I'm close to my family. But I thought I would get the best possible experience — running and college and everything — here."
Patrignelli was the sixth Duck and 10th overall in Saturday's race, running 17:10, just six seconds behind Hasay, the most decorated of the current Ducks. Hasay, entering her senior season, faded over the final 150 meters and wound up seventh.
Patrignelli said she missed attending the Olympic Trials here in June because she returned home for the high school graduation of her brother, Tony, who is on the football team at Fordham this fall.
Lanie Thompson (Voorhees, High Bridge, N.J.) sat out Saturday's race because she is recovering from a "little bit of a back injury," she said.
Thompson was an All-American for Oregon in the steeplechase last spring and became the school recordholder, running 9:59.90 and placing sixth in the NCAA final as a sophomore.
"I looked at the history of Oregon and the team was a total fit for me when I came out here," she said. "I fell in love and can probably say I'm not going back to the East Coast. I've got an Oregon driver's license. It's laid back and relaxing and I love Eugene."
Sisters Phyllis and Claudia Francis, both of New York City, were in attendance on Saturday but did not run in the meet.
Claudia, a halfmiler, trains with the cross country team but said she does not plan to compete for the team during the fall. Phyllis has become one of the nation's premier 400-meter runners and said she is happy to focus on sprinting.
Chad Noelle (Greene Central, Greene, N.Y.) of the Oregon men's team also sat out on Saturday, but said he expects to be part of the Ducks' effort at Pre-Nationals and the Pac-12 Championships.
"I'm healthy, but running a limited season because I'm a little injury prone," Noelle said.
Also of note on Saturday was the presence of the elite high school runner Wesley Frazier, of Raleigh, N.C. Frazier ran unattached and placed 24th in 17:40.
Frazier concluded an official visit to Oregon on Friday and took the opportunity to run in the meet because she has few options during the season. She does not compete for her school (Ravenscroft) during the cross country season, so she finds meets on her own until the post-season.
Frazier, who has run 16:24.83 for 5k on the track, said she did not plan to take all five of her official college visits but wasn't ready to declare for Oregon yet. "I don't know yet," she said. "I need to think it through."