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Marquette’s cross country program consistently produces speedsters who also happen to be brainiacs.

In just the past two years, cross country alumni entered post-graduate programs in biochemistry, sociology, neuromuscular physiology, accounting, physics, structural engineering, medical school and more. “I’ve been here 23 years, and both the women’s and men’s teams have always ranked first or second in (student-athlete) GPA standings,” says Tom Ford, associate athletics director of academic services. “I think the self-discipline and dedication they demonstrate to be successful in their sport also make them elite students in the academic arena.”

The men’s and women’s dedication to academics shows when they request quiet study time instead of a movie on the bus to their meets or when they choose hitting the books over sightseeing while competing in New York, according to Mike Nelson, cross country head coach.

“We actually had to make a rule that you can’t study while the meet is going on,” Nelson says. But Nelson sees a correlation between the rigors of athletics and academics for this group.

“I found the better they are as students the better they are as athletes,” he says. “The more they are focused on academics and their career, the more structured and balanced they are in their lives  and the better they are as runners.”

Olivia Johnson, Bus Ad ’11, learned that mentality isn’t typical.

“When we traveled, everyone brought books,” says Johnson, who earned a perfect 4.0 and holds the fourth-fastest 1,500-meter time in Marquette history. “I took this for granted until I spoke with an accounting professor who played college basketball and brought it to my attention that this isn’t normal every-where else.”

“There were teammates who set good academic examples,” says Peter Bolgert, Arts ’12, who is studying plasma physics at Princeton University. “Guys like Brice Cleland, Arts ’11, showed that you could be very serious about athletics and academics. Coach Nelson also encouraged us to take school seriously, so it was a team priority.”

Johnson found that workouts could sometimes double as review sessions, especially because she was one of six accounting majors on the team.

“On multiple occasions, as we cooled down after workouts, we quizzed each other for an upcoming exam or talked through topics that were challenging to us,” she says.

Today, Johnson is a doctoral student at the University of Iowa with the goal of becoming a tenure-track professor.

The tradition of scholarly runners continues According to Cross Country Head Coach Mike Nelson, in the fall 2012 semester the women’s team averaged a 3.62 GPA and the men’s team a 3.26. Their majors are pretty broad, he says, although majors in health sciences and business are most popular. TC


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