Henson Finds Passion In Volunteering

- 2011 Pac-12 Cross Country Championships

By Stephen Varga

University of Arizona cross country runner Hanna Henson may not be the most decorated athlete in Pac-12 history, but her track record off the field is almost as impressive as any amount of trophies or championships decorating the halls of colleges across the country.

Henson, 21, has been an athlete her entire life. She played soccer and volleyball in middle school, growing up in Rio Rico, a small town outside Tucson. As she puts it, she "stumbled" upon cross country, starting when she got to high school and never looked back.

Coming off a successful run at the Wisconsin adidas Invitational, where she set a personal best, Henson and the rest of the Wildcats are set to compete in the Pac-12 Cross Country Championships on Saturday.

"I'm trying to remain stable and keep the consistency of what has worked all year," she said about her preparations for the championship. "We just want to keep our momentum going forward."

By growing up in such a small town, she came to appreciate at an early age the importance of a team and community, always eager and willing to help as many people as she could in any capacity she was capable.

For Henson, volunteering gives her grounding, some sort of balance in her life. She loves working with kids, interacting with people and getting to know different cultures and backgrounds.

"Whatever your interests are, find some way to help another person," she says. "I couldn't recommend it more."

By coming to the U of A, Henson recognized Arizona athletics as a forum and opportunity to volunteer on a much larger scale. Now a senior, Henson has actively participated in community volunteering and events since her freshman year, compiling over 110 hours of service.

Her list is a lengthy one - doing things like painting for local group Ben's Bells, cooking meals for the homeless at Tucson's Primavera Foundation and reading to children at elementary schools during Love of Reading Week. The list just keeps on going.

Henson makes it a priority to meet with kids to stress the importance of staying physically active, setting goals and doing well in school, where her 4.0 GPA happens to set a perfect example.

She frequently speaks to local youths about the importance of living healthy and active lives, even working with Fit Kids, a childhood obesity clinic in Flagstaff, Ariz.

During her freshman year, Henson helped found U of A's chapter of the Feel Good Club, a community service group with chapters in 20 other colleges around the country all geared towards ending world hunger. During her time with the club, she says she found out a lot about herself as a person, coming to appreciate what was important in life.

Now in her last year of school, Henson's sights are set on graduating. Whether she's running for Arizona or just as a hobby, volunteering will always be an integral and stabilizing part of her life.

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