By Ralph Epifanio
The 2010 Hatter Harriers have three seniors: "MJ" Gort, Kate Matthews, and Kelsey Munson. Each brings to their team a unique "style" and individuality that transcends the "loneliness of the long distance runner," and shines through in those brief times that the team is together, before and after their early morning runs. I have to admit, cornering the three was not easy. However, persistence paid off, and I am happy to offer a peek into their personalities.
MJ-short for Matthew Jarod--came to Stetson from the Atlanta suburb of Silver Springs to study Investment Banking and Finance. When asked about his being called MJ, he explained that there were "too many Matthews in my elementary school class, so I changed."
(In addition to pursuing his major) "I came here because of the weather and an opportunity to run Division I cross country."
MJ, who has a 5K personal best among the top three on the current team (a 16:45 in the May, 2007 Jeff Galloway road race, in Atlanta), is just now recovering from a foot injury which, unfortunately, has sidelined him until this past weekend. (He finished the FLR XI in 20:51.08.)
"I'm not where I should be, but for running only a week it was okay. I'm just trying to get ready for our home race (the October 15th Hatter Invitational, which will be held at the City of Deland's Sperling Park)."
Gort has run all four years while at Stetson, and asked if he has had any disappointments along the way, he responded, "A big disappointment is how many runners don't come back after one or two years. We had one guy who was in the mid-15s (for 5K). Six or seven left from my class alone."
He has a strong conviction that may be a thing of the past, however.
"There's a new excitement. It seems like everyone wants to be here. In the past, it seemed as if they just went through the motions...if they showed up at all. Now there's a lot of competition to finish in the top seven."
From a personal standpoint, he says, "I try to get people in the right frame of mind...to have fun. You have to be a 'little crazy' to go out and run for an hour or longer. So I try to get them relaxed and make practice fun."
Given an opportunity to leave a legacy for runners who follow, MJ responded, "I just want the people who join to show up for practice, work hard, and have fun, because your college career ends before you know it."
Two things, besides her open enthusiasm for her sport, identify Kelsey as the quintessential college student. The first is her enthusiasm for her major, or majors--as the case may be-and the extent to which she is willing to become involved in them.
"I was originally a double major in International Business and Marketing, with Spanish as a minor. Then I swapped Marketing with Spanish. I chose Spanish because I've always had a love for the language, and I spent last semester in Madrid at the Universidad Carlos III de Madrid (named after Charles III of Spain).
"I would like to become involved in International Marketing abroad, preferably in a Spanish speaking country. (Besides her love of the language), I love traveling, learning new cultures and meeting people. I was involved in two Study Abroad programs. The first was a summer SA program in Innsbruck, Austria--Kate stayed abroad with me-and the second was a full semester in Spain."
Kelsey's profound love for her sport runs deep, and goes back to her middle school years in Solon, Ohio (near Cleveland), with its serendipitous proximity to miles and miles of wooded trails.
"I've been running since seventh grade. Running was always my thing. I started because of where I lived. We have these Metro Parks, with horseback riding trails, hiking trails, waterfalls, and meadows. They are all trails through the woods. You could run for miles without repeating.
"When I joined the Stetson Cross Country team as a freshman, John Boyle was the coach. The way he described the team, his philosophy came across as his wanting to make us runners for life. That's why I joined the team. Other universities or colleges may overwork you, and then you lose your love for the sport and not do it anymore. Here you grow with the sport and end up wanting to keep with it."
Her most memorable experience after four years as a Hatter Harrier?
"My favorite time with the team was during my freshman year, when we went to Nashville to run the A-Sun Championship. The bonding experience with the team (stands out), rather than the races."
She sees her current coaches in a dual role.
"Back in high school, it was very different. My parents were very involved. But they live too far away for that now. It's refreshing to have Joe cheer for us and encourage us to do well, like my Dad did in high school.
"Mallory takes the time to learn our individual needs and personalizes our workout, so that we improve without getting hurt."
Kate is one of no less than four team members with the initials KM. If that's not enough of a coincidence, the only other senior on the women's team, Kelsey Munson, is her roommate. Interviewing these two on a hammock, together, was certainly something that doesn't happen every day, to me at least.
Kate is a finance major from Blacksburg, Virginia. Her introduction to Stetson came by way of her father.
"My Dad actually found the school, and I checked it out because of the business program, especially the Rolland George Program, and because it had soccer. I came down to visit and fell in love with the campus and the weather. It was better than walking to classes in snow, which I saw as an alternative if I went to Boston College."
Outside of her involvement in sports, she is probably best known on campus for her role as a co-founder of Hatter Harvest.
"That's my baby. It's a community-organized garden on Minnesota Ave., right by the Gillespie Museum. I started it, along with Caty Peterson, in the spring of 2009, my sophomore year. We were both on the soccer team.
"It was started because we felt the Commons food was not up to par. Caty's interest was more environmental, and mine was health and diet related.
"Last year was the first time that we had a full harvest. A lot of the organization's members ate vegetables from it, but we also gave some to the faculty, and some to those who knew about it.
"It's still there. On Monday (September 27th), they planted the fall harvest; squash and peas...and I can't remember what else. We have a number of different concepts of what to do with it, like eating a portion, selling a portion at a farmer's market to help pay for its costs, and donating a portion.
Kate did not run cross country in high school. Originally, she was on the Stetson soccer team.
"I've been a soccer player since...forever...since I was five, I think. I mostly played outside mid and forward, and did that in college too. I played for three years here."
Her reason for switching sports?
"In cross country, everyone gets to compete, no matter what. The coach cannot bench you, whether it's talent or because of personality (differences).
"I have no regrets switching. The girls, the team, the coaches have all been supportive. It's an individual sport, but the team is so friendly; they (coaches and team) make you better by encouragement. I didn't know that before I started.
"If I was going to leave a gift for my teammates after I graduate, it would have to be the youth and passion of my two coaches, Mallory and Joe. I love Mallory and Joe as coaches.
"We were blessed to find them; Mallory with her passion and love for the sport, and Joe for his knowledge. Both have been great. Having the two of them together balance each other. I think it will strengthen and build the program."