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Meet the Utes: Lisha van Onselen

Feb 1, 2022

We resume our Meet the Utes feature with Lisha van Onselen, who was a new addition to the Utah cross country team this past season. Van Onselen is a graduate student studying rehabilitation science and joined the Women of Utah after stops at Coastal Carolina and most recently Appalachian State. 
Despite only running alongside her teammates for a short time, she greatly enjoyed her experiences with them this past season she said. "Being on the team was an incredible experience for me. Just being on a team that's at such a high level was just an amazing experience. Everyone was so supportive and we had a bunch of new people that started up in August for the cross country season. After we had our team camp at the beginning of the season, it felt like I had been on the team since my freshman year. We just had a really good team dynamic, and everyone was super supportive. It's been really good." 
Van Onselen started running when she was young and inspired by her father, who was also a runner. "My family's pretty active. My dad runs too. I think I started when I was seven years old. I'm from South Africa originally and running is a big, big sport there so you kind of start in school because he ran when he was in school, and he did a lot of marathons and ultra-marathon running. I sort of became interested and started running in school and just went from there." and pretty much everyone does cross country, just doing short races around a grass field pretty much. I would say that my dad played a big role
Despite being a runner nearly her entire life, van Onselen never thought she would run at the collegiate level. "I, throughout high school, never really considered coming to the United States to run. I was pretty much set on staying in South Africa, still running on a competitive level, but the system there makes it a little harder to run while you're studying. My senior year, my coach at the time knew of a coach whose athletes came to the US to run. He mentioned it to me and then put me in contact with them. Before my senior year, I hadn't really considered running in college. I knew about the NCAA but it wasn't on my radar until he mentioned it."
Van Onselen started her career at Coastal Carolina where she was coached Zola Budd, a South African Olympic runner who she admired for a very long time. "Zola doesn't run competitively anymore, but she was my coach at Coastal Carolina, the university I went to when I first came to the US. She first competed for South Africa and then Great Britain on an international level. She is just someone that I looked up to before I even knew her personally. Growing up, she was a big name and still is a big name in the running community in South Africa. She is someone I always looked up to growing up and aspired to be like, and then when I got to know her on a personal level, when she coached me, I found out she went through a lot. Zola went through many hardships throughout her career, but she never let it bring her down, blamed it on other people or situations. She always chose to use it as motivation to help her train harder and perform better."
Van Onselen performed well this season, posting a new 6k PR time in only the second meet of the season and competed at the NCAA Cross Country Championships. "I am most proud of running at nationals. My first 5 years in the US, I had always dreamed about going to nationals. It had always been the main goal of mine and for many reasons, like injuries and health issues; it didn't necessarily always go the way that I wanted to. When we started this year, we just had such a good team dynamic and so much talent on the team. Even up until the last moment, I was still kind of in shock that I was competing at the NCAA Championships. It was just a very special, special moment to close off my collegiate career at nationals." 
More About Lisha van Onselen
Q: Where are you from?
A: I'm from Durban, South-Africa
Q: What is your favorite color?
A: Blue
Q: Do you have any pets?
A: A Jack-Russel named Max
Q: What is your favorite TV show?
A: Grey's Anatomy
Q: What is your favorite drink?
A: Tea
Q: What is your favorite food?
A: Indian Food
Q: What song do you listen to before a race?
A: It will be a song from one of three bands: Coldplay, Imagine Dragons or 21 pilots 
Q: What word best describes you?
A: Tenacious
Q: What is the last book you read?
A: The Sports Gene by David Epstein
Q: What do you wish you knew more about?
A: Speaking more languages! I grew up bilingual and know the basics of other languages, but I wish I took the time to become fluent in more
Q: What would be your ultimate vacation?
A: The ultimate vacation would be spending time in a cabin in the middle of nowhere in the mountains
Q: What is your favorite thing about the University of Utah?
A:   I love that the U is located in between mountains, which means there is so much to do in terms of outdoor activities
Q: Who is your favorite musician?
A: Imagine Dragons 
Q: What is your dream car?
A: A Tesla
Q: What would be your dream job?
A: Doing research for a biotech company