Running Away From The Competition
Sept. 16, 2003
Looking back, it would have been so easy for Iowa's Sarah Arens to just run away.
Run away from the adversity she has faced over her collegiate career.
Her freshman year she suffered a stress fracture of her tibia. She lost her brother Ben in a car accident during her sophomore season. She broke her tibia, right under her knee, at Penn State during the Big Ten Indoor Championships her junior year. And now as a fifth-year senior, she is side-by-side her longtime boyfriend Seth, who is battling cancer.
When running away appeared to be a viable and certainly an understandable option, Arens has remained grounded, and continues running forward.
She knows that she has had no control over all of these incidents that have plagued her collegiate career. She knows that adapting to these events was the only option for her. She knows that the injuries to her legs don't even come close to amounting to the injuries her heart has sustained.
Yet just as Arens compares life to a cross country meet on the Hawkeye campus, she says, "You can't control how your competitors run, you can only control yourself."
So prior to competing, she stretches to make sure her legs don't give out. She holds up her sandy-blonde hair with an orange ribbon, because that was her brother's favorite color. And she re-reads cards, scripted with words of love that her boyfriend has penned throughout their relationship.
And then she's off. Running like there is no tomorrow, because in all actuality, there may not be.
Arens hails from Remsen - a small town of 1,500 in northwest Iowa. It's easy to see how easily Arens can put things in perspective by hearing more about her childhood. Raised just two-and-a-half miles outside the tiny German community, Arens was brought up on strong beliefs and values. Her father is a farmer, while her mother teaches at Remsen St. Mary's, a small private catholic school at which Arens attended high school.
Having her mother teach at her high school not only supplemented the strong family bond, but also provided Arens an alternative mode of transportation to and from school each day.
"Actually, I used to run to and from school everyday," says Arens. "I would get up early in the morning and get started. My mom would just bring my clothes and school stuff with her when she came to work."
Arens stayed active throughout high school, both academically and athletically. Sure, she was the president of National Honor Society and a three-year member of Student Council, but Arens graduated in a class of 27 that included just 10 girls. So as she jokingly put it, if you were a girl, you played sports...every one of them.
Besides staying active in cross country and track, Arens also played volleyball, basketball and softball. But it was running that became Arens' true love. Her highlights included all-state honors and a state runner-up finish in 1997, and conference, district, and state champion accolades in the 1,500 and 3,000 meters her senior year.
"I really didn't even start running until my junior year of high school," she admits. "Even back then, my long run was my 4-mile run. To run in college, that needs to be around 12 miles."
Arens also notes how big of a role her town played when her family was at its lowest point.
"When Ben died, our town was so supportive," she recalls. "Everyone knows everyone there, and our family was really lucky to have had so much support like that."
That hometown support, along with the fact that she didn't get recruited by many out-of-state schools, led Arens to Iowa City. What a change that was for her.
"One of the first things I remember being exposed to was the diversity of the campus," she says. "The people I met here were from all over, which really helped me grow as a person. Being independent helped in that process as well. I think I have grown tremendously as a person."
You almost have to stop and ask yourself, "How could she not have grown?"
Arens is as excited as she has ever been for this season. After all, it is her final one. But more importantly, she entered 2003 with her first full season of training under her belt.
"I'm so excited and happy to be healthy and where I'm at right now," she says as you know she's just glowing. And she should be.
She opened the fall season in style, capturing the individual title at the first annual Iowa Invitational, crossing the finish line in 10:41 for the 3,000-meter course. For her efforts, Arens was named Big Ten Athlete of the Week on September 3. In the Hawkeye's second event, the Iowa State Open, Arens paced all Hawkeyes with a second-place finish overall. She has now led the Hawkeyes in their last 13 competitions.
Arens, a three-time Academic All-Big Ten, completed her undergraduate degree in finance last May and is now working towards her masters in sports administration. Her dream job is to work for the NCAA after college.
You can't help but think what kind of girl - no wait, woman - college has made Sarah Arens. She has been rewarded with co-captain honors and weekly accolades from both her school and conference, yet has suffered with personal injuries and hardship involving two men she has loved so dearly.
But it is the latter that has made her the person she is today.
Her advice is simple, "Keep things in perspective."
Sarah Arens does that by reading those words of love, and tying that orange ribbon in her hair before she begins running away.
Running away from the competition.