Setting The Pace

Oct. 8, 2008

By Ben FoutzThe Daily

For most freshman athletes, the transition from high school to college requires a steep learning curve. Time must be dedicated to adjust to the speed of the game, but in the case of Washington cross country runner Kendra Schaaf, the game must adjust to the speed of the individual.

Schaaf, who grew up in the province of Saskatchewan, developed her passion for running at a young age, joining her school's track and field team in the fourth grade. While she also played baseball -- pitching and playing third base -- Schaaf dedicated herself primarily to running even though she wasn't originally interested in the distance events.

'I always thought I wanted to be a sprinter so in grade six I joined a track club to try and be a sprinter,' said Schaaf. 'But then the coach said, `You're definitely not a sprinter,' so I got into distance stuff and ended up liking it.'

While it's impossible to tell how things would have played out had she gone through with sprinting, it's safe to say that the coach made a great call in keeping the young Schaaf running long distances. In her junior and senior years of high school, Schaaf would go on to win the 800-, 1500- and 3000-meter runs, as well as the cross country title both years.

As Canada's top junior distance runner in 2008, Schaaf could have attended virtually any college of her choice.

She chose the University of Washington.

'I thought Washington was a great school and when I came on my trip, I felt like I really fit in with the girls,' said Schaaf. 'I really got along with the coaches and everyone and I knew they were an up-and-coming team and I wanted to help build in that. I don't think I could have picked any better team to go to.'

Schaaf has done no less than dominate while wearing the purple and gold. In her first collegiate event, the Sundodger Invitational, she shattered the 6000-meter course record with a time of 19:58. To follow up her outstanding start, the freshman took first once again in Alabama this past weekend, and was the only runner to complete the 5000-meter run in less than 16 minutes -- with a time of 15:48.

Schaaf said that the team has been strong and very competitive this year -- winning both the Sundodger and the Tiger Invitational in Alabama. Schaaf appreciates the team bond that makes them competitive.

'Every run we're there for each other,' said Schaaf. 'Through bad workouts and good workouts, we're there for each other. There's never any competition between any of us. Everyone's always happy for one another.'

Their teamwork goes beyond running and into academics as well. In order to avoid any freshman fumbling around campus, Schaaf and her teammates made themselves familiar with the campus. Their close-knit bond, Schaaf said, is her favorite part of the college life.

'We do everything together, basically,' said Schaaf. 'When we're not at practice, we're still together, and we never get sick of each other. We always like to be together.'

The freshman is interested in environmental engineering and looks forward to her geology class.

Goals, like majoring in the rigorous environmental engineering field, require a great amount of motivation to achieve -- the same kind of drive that is necessary for success in a sport that is as draining as cross country.

Kendra Schaaf has the passion to do it, but from where does it come? For the young woman, it's all naturally instilled.

'It's just what I want to do,' said Schaaf. 'It's what I've dreamt of doing for so long, so it's hard to get steered off that course. For so many years I've been looking forward to and training to come to college and run.'

And that's exactly what she's doing -- and doing it better than anyone at the moment. As Kendra Schaaf continues to motivate herself, her accomplishments will continue to pile up and yet her teammates giggle at her when she stands in front of a camera. Some things she says may sound funny because of her accent.

She's Canadian and proud of it.

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