Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Kelsey (Malmquist) Carroll's Georgetown Experience (Class of '10)

First of all, Chelsea - you are amazing and courageous. Thanks for creating this space for our voices to be heard.

My name is Kelsey (Malmquist) Carroll, Class of 2010. During my time as a student athlete on the Georgetown Track and Field team, I experienced PRs in new events, not beating my high school PRs in old events, and all of the emotions that go along with it. 

At Georgetown, I was forever impacted by my friends, teammates, and coaches through what I learned OFF the track. On the long bus rides home from meets, Coach Henner was always there to talk to, and not just when I ran well. With so many emotions swirling on a daily basis, helping athletes balance academic excellence with running careers they can be proud of (at every level), Henner brings a calmness and even-keeled timbre to the track program that we desperately need/ed. 

My four year journey on the track team was filled with ups and downs and empty spaces, as I had to sit out at least one season a year due to injuries. In fact, the first run I ever did at Georgetown, my quad started hurting and it turned out to be a stress fracture. Injury is unfortunate part of distance running and you'd be hard pressed to find an athlete that hasn't been emotionally impacted by this challenge in their career. Any time I was injured, the coaching staff would treat me like any other member of the team (and I wasn't even that fast) .... as long as I showed up to practice with a good attitude and ready to work.

In a results-based sport like track, an athlete makes themselves completely vulnerable. Especially in distance running, weaknesses are exposed very quickly. Yes, it takes talent and hard work to get into a position to perform well, but it's the athlete's attitude that ultimately determines their performance. So simple, yet hard to grasp unless you've been there and pushed through the mental barrier. The reason for this aside is to set the context for why an athlete would be asked to leave the team. After a bad race (I'm talking terrible here - not like you got 2nd at Big East instead of 1st), a coach would ask an athlete ... and an athlete would ask themselves, "What happened?" Barring any injuries or illness, usually the answer was simple: "At some point in the race, I mentally gave up." If an athlete was mentally strong, had an attitude that positively influenced their teammates, and gave their all every time they stepped on the track, they would be considered an asset to the team, even if they weren't the fastest. I've known a lot of teammates who exhibit those traits - that ran all four years - and I count many of them as friends today, long after out last race or workout together. And while times are important in track, attitude is something that transcends athletics and ... sorry to say ... actually matters in real life.

As far as Georgetown being under funded, I went on some recruiting trips to other schools that distributed gear (shoes, uniforms) based on performance - and I promptly crossed those schools off my list for that reason. During my time at Georgetown, this favoritism was never the case (I know this because I was one of the slowest and the staff made sure everyone got what they needed). Also, am I the only one who loved the fact that we had a 320m track? Not being a fully funded program, without fancy facilities gave us a solid chip on our shoulder that would fuel our drive to pass by fancy "arm warmer" girls at the end of races. We knew what we signed up for: A world-class education, the PRIVILEGE to wear the blue and gray, travelling the country to represent our school, the opportunity to distill positive life lessons that we carry with us long after we hang up our spikes. 

Thank you to the Georgetown Track and Field program, especially Coach Henner, for supporting us, cheering us on, having grace in difficult conversations, and teaching us that there's more to life than running in circles and turning left.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Lise Ogrodnick's Georgetown Experience (Class of '09)

My twin sister was one of the best high school runners in Canada. I was miles behind her. Many D1 schools treated us differently while we were being recruited, Georgetown did not.

From the moment I put on my blue and gray uniform, the coaching staff did everything they could to help me compete to my full potential. They were tough on me when I doubted myself. They would not accept me being second best anymore. They pushed me out of the comfort limit that I lived in during my high school days, and they taught me what hard work and dedication really meant. I became a stronger person because of Georgetown track, and I will always be grateful that I had the opportunity to represent The Hoyas.

Throughout my time at Georgetown, I went through many ups and downs. Coach Henner was there cheering me on through all of it.

Lise Ogrodnick
Class of 2009

Avril Ogrodnick's Georgetown Experience (Class of '09)

Hold on Hoyas.

Track and field is a brutally honest sport. You step up to the line and have to perform at that moment. You line up knowing that your performance usually ends in complete physical pain, and a mental struggle to get yourself to the finish line. The coaches at Georgetown University do everything within their power to prepare you to perform when you line up on the track. The honesty and feedback that they provide about a given performance is one of the best educational experiences a college student can receive. Performance expectations at Georgetown are high, but reasonable. The coaching staff value student-athletes who exhibit effort and passion as much as they do students with All-American accolades.

When you love the sport, nothing is more frustrating than having to sit on the sidelines during injury and watch the show from the sidelines. I spent my first two years at Georgetown injured, and the third year, Coach Henner patiently brought me back to life on the track. In my experience, Coach Henner was the one person who saved my collegiate running and literally re-taught me how to run step by step so that I could be injury free. I stand by him as a coach. Scratch that. I jump up and down screaming for him as a coach.

Moving on to Coach Mike Smith. Coach Mike has a natural leadership and coaching ability that I knew of long before he came to Georgetown. I believe that under his leadership, the Hoyas will not only remain a top distance program in the country, but more importantly, future Hoyas will develop in the true Georgetown spirit of cura personalis. Coach Mike is a product of Georgetown, and will develop well-rounded people who the University will be proud of long after they hang up their track spikes.

To current Hoyas, we know that this current portrayal is not us…. we know what we are all about. Now, more than ever is the time to “hold on when there is nothing in you except the will which says hold on!” We will get through it. We will rise above it.

Avril Ogrodnick
Class of 2009

Another Athlete's Georgetown Experience (#5)

Every experience is unique and every athlete is different. Through my

experience at Georgetown, I learned this from my coach, Mike Smith. If anyone

understood this concept, I truly believe it was him. Through countless meetings and

talks I had with Coach Mike, I learned that he wanted to help each athlete not only to

be the best they could be in their running career, but also to have the best

experience they could at Georgetown. So with this investigation, I wanted to share

my experience and what I witnessed on the Georgetown track and field team.

Whether it was through individualized training logs or personal meetings in

his office, Coach Mike knew each athlete worked differently and took the time to

understand us. Personally, I witnessed Coach Mike go above and beyond his job title

as “Head Women's Cross Country Coach/Assistant T&F Coach” many times. He

wasn’t just a track coach, but somebody that took the time to listen to me no matter

what the issue was about (running, personal, etc). I witnessed Coach Mike help

many athletes through injuries and through ups and downs and helped them

overcome the challenges and push forward. I also witnessed Coach Mike helping

many athletes through personal matters. I truly believe Coach Mike cared about us

as people first and athletes second.

I think the real question here is: Was Coach Mike fair? In general, running is

not a fair sport. It is performance driven and you can’t take it personally. I learned

this through disappointing races, but Coach Mike never gave up on me. He stayed in

his office multiple times until late evening to talk to me when he could’ve left hours

earlier. He continued to push me in workouts to my potential and always motivated

me to be the best I could.  From what I witnessed, Coach Mike had the open door

policy for anyone who wanted to come to his office and talk about her experience

just like he allowed me to do any time I wanted. He encouraged us many times at

practice to come to his office and talk to him about running or about life. He wanted

to build that relationship with all of us, but it was also a two way street. I never

witnessed Coach Mike treating an athlete unfairly. I think what matters the most to

Coach Mike is having a positive attitude and contributing to the team in a positive

way.  He wants to protect the positive team culture we had because he knows this

will lead the team to having the best experience at Georgetown and I believe he is

right. The greatest thing about the Georgetown team is the culture. It’s so much

better running for something bigger than yourself and running for your teammates.

 Personally, I couldn’t have imagined a more caring coach, and I respect

Coach Mike tremendously. I knew being on the Georgetown team that I was part of

something very special and every day at Georgetown I knew it was a privilege. I am

very thankful for my coaches and I do not believe they acted in a racially bias

manner. I truly believe Coach Mike wants to build the most successful team in the

country with the most positive team culture.

Michael Crozier's Georgetown Experience

I would like to begin this blog entry by offering praise and kudos to Ms. Chelsea Cox.  This blog is her brainchild, and she is nothing less than a stellar representative for Georgetown track and the University itself. Her unquestionable character, integrity, humility, compassion, and work-ethic are poignantly admirable and have set her up for great success on and off the track. She has been a role model for many female and male runners these past few years, and we all certainly owe her many thanks for the positive impact she has had on this program.

The allegations levied against my teammates, my coaches, and me are heinous, defamatory, and absolutely false. The vitriol being spewed against Coach Mike Smith should not be taken with any sincerity; he’s a man who cares about every single person he interacts with. He is not my coach, as he guides our speedy and wonderful girls’ team, but he has had a lasting impact on my running and manhood in my three years of knowing him. He has taught me that running is an onerous process; there is nothing easy about what we do, but that is why we do it. It is a righteous pursuit for the bold and borderline masochistic, and he has shown me that running can teach us about life and how we choose to live it. Mike was a teacher in a rough inner-city school before he became one of the most respected running minds in the country, and his work at that school has shaped his character in many positive ways that rub off on his athletes. He shows us every single day how empathy and an open mind can allow us all to become the best athletes and people we can be. I do not believe he is a very religious man, but his coaching and life methodologies run directly parallel to the Jesuit tenets this institution was founded upon. Michael Smith will always have my support.

While I am not a member of the female track/xc teams at Georgetown, I certainly know enough about each and every girl and their requisite team culture to stand beside and defend them. Being on the male team I am lucky enough to call many of these girls my friends; several of them I consider close confidantes who have helped me through challenging times in my own running career. We share practice times, so I am often around the ladies in the midst of arduous workouts and long runs. They are a passionate and extraordinarily supportive bunch. For how talented and hard-working they are I am amazed at how none of them carry around a large ego; humility and sacrifice are expected. They pick each other up, they dust each other off, and they take care of business. Hard-work and a positive attitude are prerequisites to success on this team, and some people just don’t have “it”. If you are not coming to practice with a positive attitude and resolve to work until you cannot work any harder, you do not deserve the PRIVILEGE of being on this wonderful squad. I will always support my female teammates who display such positive attributes.

Finally, I would like to discuss my experience with Coach Patrick Henner and my time thus far as a member of the men’s team at Georgetown. Patrick Henner is a man who lives his life for his athletes and for others. He is not married, he does not have kids, and his hobbies include reading, rock climbing, and molding his athletes into men who are ready to serve and have a positive influence on the world around us. The absolutely ludicrous allegations of racial bias against Henner are so farfetched and hurtful I can only pray for the accuser to realize his wrongs. Racism is real in today’s world, and it may even exist on Georgetown’s campus; however, it is never (nor will it ever be) welcomed in McDonough Gymnasium, the coaching offices, or the locker room.  Henner is a passionate and supportive man, but he does not coddle his athletes. He expects us to be our very best every day, and he expects us to put everything we have into our dimensional college experience: school and running. Being a member of this team is a privilege, and it is one my teammates and I certainly do not take for granted. Elite level distance running is a 365 day per year commitment; the notion of an “off season” is cute and humorous, and applies only to our ball sport playing brethren. This means well over 20 hours per week of training (not just pounding out 90 mile weeks, but spending time in the weight room and pool/bike to strengthen the entire body) accompanied with a borderline ascetic lifestyle to achieve maximum results. That means bed at 10 PM every single night and every single weekend when most of our non-running peers are out and about fulfilling their collegiate fantasies of bacchanalia and such. We do this to respect the time and effort Henner puts into our livelihoods as runners and men. He works his rear end off day in and day out in equitable fashion thinking about how he can get each of us to run faster or jump farther. He loves each and every one of us the same, regardless of skin color, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status, etc. Our team culture is strengthened through our commitment to each other as runners and men, and that positive culture is perpetuated by Coaches Henner and Bonsey. They support hard-work and toughness; they do not support undeserving entitlement stemming from a lack of maturity and work-ethic. The coaches treat every athlete the same way, and their rhetoric is respectful and geared towards making us better men in every possible facet of life.

My experience on the team has been nothing short of fantastic and wonderfully formative; I have become physically stronger and much more mature thanks to the influence of my amazing teammates and coaches. I have felt supported in the locker room, on the road, on the trail, on the track, and in the classroom by those men who surround me day in and day out. I have never felt pressured to do or say anything that would run counter to my unique character; I am part of this amazing team, but I am also free to by my own self in all hours of the day. I urge any of you who have come across the slanderous allegations against this program to view them as such: slander. The stories you read on THIS blog represent the real Georgetown track/xc program.  What you are reading here is the real truth, and we will be heard. I will never stand idly by while my name as a member of this top-notch program is dragged through the mud in heinous and undeserving fashion.  Thank you for reading. AMDG. 

Alex Pettee's Georgetown Experience (A sprinter's perspective)

I had the unbelievable privilege to play two sports at Georgetown, a statement that surely leads one to drastically overestimate my athletic ability. I never won any awards. I was never All-American, All-League, or All-anything, not even in high school. I wasn’t the best player on my team, and haven’t been the best player on my own team since maybe tee-ball. My college sports career was pretty atypical, to say the least.

At the start of my senior year at Georgetown, I was a 0 sport athlete. After three years of unsuccessfully trying out for the baseball team (once at Trinity College-Division 3- and then twice at Georgetown) it seemed like the slow walk out of a coach’s office with watery eyes and a lump in my throat after being told “I appreciate the hard work, but maybe next year” was just an annual occurrence that may or may not end in ever playing a college game.

After three tries I was done. It was around the time that Moneyball came out. “We're all told at some point in time that we can no longer play the children's game, we just don't know when that's gonna be. Some of us are told at eighteen, some of us are told at forty, but we're all told.”

I packed up my baseball glove and cleats and just wanted to live like a typical college kid, unburdened by the constant need to stay fit and maintain a disciplined lifestyle. And I did. Sometime the next spring, though, watching a baseball game at Povich, that competitive instinct seemed to come roaring back, after months of suppression. Too bad I was now 40 lbs overweight and currently eating an entire Dominos Pizza.

But that night I started running. I always hated running, and having had 2 ACL surgeries and now carrying 40 extra lbs certainly didn’t make it any easier. 30 yards at a time, I’d jog back and forth. I didn’t want to go on a treadmill because I wasn’t ready to accept that I couldn’t run continuously for even a quarter mile. But for some reason I kept running, day by day, yard by yard, and eventually mile by mile.

I arrived back at school the next fall, 45 lbs lighter than the day I left 3 months earlier, and apparently looking pretty different. That first day while I was bringing my stuff into the house, a close friend on the baseball team stuck his hand out and said, “hey nice to meet you.” It wasn’t until someone else said my name a couple minutes later that he realized what just happened.

I didn’t email the coach this time to ask if I could try out, I was afraid he’d had enough of me and would say “no”. So I just showed up to the first day of tryouts, the dreaded 2-mile run, a right of passage for the Georgetown baseball program. “Hey coach, I’m trying out again.” I could tell it took more than a second to register who I was. “Good.”

10 minutes and 35 seconds later, I finished the 2-miles, averaging just over 5:15 minute/mile pace. I rocked back and forth in the fetal position in pain for the next 5 minutes as everyone else finished the run, the next finisher crossing the line around the 12 minute mark.

Long story short, I made the baseball team this time. I got to step on the field, I got to swing the bat in a Division 1 college game, and catch a fly ball. I was able to go on the excruciating long bus rides to the middle of South Carolina, had the privilege to drive to Povich Field (30 minutes from campus) to put the tarp on the field in the 35 degree rain. And when three of us players had to share 2 twin beds on a roadtrip at some 2-star hotel in New Jersey. I was ecstatic when I opened up a pair of Nike shoes that I got for free just for being an athlete. Crazy! I didn’t care they were 2 sizes too small, I wore them till there was a hole in the front and my big toe pushed its way out.

Running 400m runs had become the foundation of my workout routine- the quarter mile was that first hurdle I passed when I started running a year and a half earlier. First 2 minutes, then 1:45, then 1:30. Each milestone harder than the last, yet increasingly more rewarding. Under 1:00, then :59, then :58.

And while it took me 4 years to make the baseball team, I got offered a spot on the track team after 51 seconds. Wearing track spikes for the first time is a weird feeling. It’s as though someone is physically pushing you forward, and during that 51 seconds I’m still convinced someone was.

There are few things in sports that bond teammates together more than the shared sacrifice of a 400m relay. The back-stretch of the 400 Is a feeling that words could never adequately describe. “Hopeful hopelessness” is about as close as I can describe it. A feeling of exerting 110% effort, seeing the finish line, being in excruciating pain, and still seemingly moving backwards. Add in the crowd noise, the grunting and yelling, the baton that is slipping out of your sweaty hands, and the implied duty to your teammates, who you saw experiencing the same thing 50 seconds earlier.

Like the baseball team, I loved every minute of my time on the track team. I’ve had some good coaches in my sports career, but never have I met such intelligent, passionate, and hard-working coaches as the Georgetown track coaching staff.

The first week I was on the team, while I was sitting in the ice bath after a painful practice, Coach Henner came up to me. “You know what the other coach’s call you? They don’t know your name so they’ve been calling you Commando.” “Why’s that?” He smiled, “Because you just put your head down and do the workout. No complaining, no second thoughts. And I can tell it hurts.”

And it hurt. I spent enough time in the ice bath that I could feel the water and guess the temperature within 2 degrees. One day it was 38 degrees. 38 degree water makes you numb within a minute, but you better have a towel in your mouth during that minute or you’ll be screaming.

I loved my teammates. They took me as one of their own despite being a mid-season walk-on. They taught me the rules, showed me how to use the blocks, and were right there in front and back of me during the more excruciating workouts. The vast majority of my fellow teammates felt this common bond, this shared sacrifice, and felt equally grateful for the tremendous opportunity to run for Georgetown.

Enough about my story, here’s the reason for writing this post, and its painful to write this, because in doing so, I am calling out the actions of a couple of my former teammates. I’m trying to set the record straight on the coaching staff and the culture of the program relating to the alleged discrimination.

My perspective may be unique, because of my rather unique story. I wasn’t recruited by the coaching staff, and I’m not a decorated athlete. I have no interest in protecting anyone, don’t owe anybody anything, and no loyalties but to the truth as I saw it.

The only thing keeping my experience from being "perfect" was a small group of teammates who, for reasons I never was able to understand, seemed intent on making major changes in the program. Their complaints seemed odd to me- disappointed with the facilities, the workouts, and their personal track success. Much of the blame for these issues, it seemed, was placed on Coach Henner.

Increasingly, it seemed that their answer to the complaints about the facilities, the workouts, and the athletic struggles was to get the head coach fired through whatever means necessary. It was essentially explained to me as, “once we get a new coach, we’ll get new facilities and be a more sprinter-focused school.”

And us sprinters were treated differently. I saw it in the same way that pitchers were treated differently than hitters on the baseball team. Different workouts, different gear. Personally, I didn’t get any “free” gear, but didn’t mind. I got my sprint spikes for $25 and that’s all I needed. If you read my story above, you’ll realize that I get offended when athletes complain about “free gear.”

I’d hear jokes and occasionally serious conversations about fabricating or exaggerating stories about Coach Henner, about making lists of small things that seemed to be taken out of context to prove some sort of mal-intent. These individuals did not seem to understand the seriousness of accusing another individual of being racist or sexist. They seemed to justify a feeling of being “underappreciated and undervalued” as justification for sweeping false accusations.

They didn’t understand, or care, about the lives they were about to destroy. About the community they were about to break apart. And the friendships they would forever tarnish. They did not think that people would challenge their claims. That people like myself and so many others on the track team, who gave everything we had to Georgetown athletics and to our fellow teammates. We would not let them tear it all apart for their own personal gain. For social media approval, for that misplaced feeling of doing good, of being on the side of social justice, even when they were doing something malicious, and working in direct opposition to social justice.

18 months later, it seems that their plan was put into action.

I don’t think I need to try to “debunk” many of the claims, because I think the level of absurdity of claiming that the lack of a new Olympic-sized track, for instance, is an overt act of discrimination rather than a financial constraint should speak for itself.

I’m not here to lambast the conspirators for publically shaming and “outing” my fellow teammates. I think their actions of injustice speak for themselves, and clearly runs in opposition to a lot of the work, as members of SAAC, that we put into aiding the LGBT athletic community with the “You Can Play” campaign.

I’m not here to explore a deeper statement about how false claims of discrimination do a tremendous disservice to the fight for social justice that so many of us fight so hard to achieve.

I just wanted to get that part of the story out there- my perspective as a sprinter and what I saw during the outdoor season of ’13-’14. I wanted to set the record straight and vehemently oppose the notion that there were any racial undertones or biases from the coaching staff or other teammates towards us sprinters.

I’m a diehard Hoya, and this track program needs to withstand the unjust attacks. Hoya Saxa.

Andrea Keklak's Georgetown Experience

Dear Georgetown Track and Field,

In light of recent events, I wanted to take a moment to state my intentions with regard to the current situation and the upcoming school year. As a returning 5th year, I feel it is my responsibility to speak out, and it is my hope that what I have written below will be read and considered by the entire Georgetown program, coaches and athletes, both past and present.

I would like to begin by addressing something vital not only to the future of our team, but to the country as a whole: white privilege.

Though this term has come to take on a variety of meanings, depending on the context, the simplest definition of “white privilege”, for me, is this: the advantages that I, as a white person, automatically possess in any given situation when compared to someone of a minority race. That doesn’t mean that being white means your life isn’t hard. It simply means that as a white person, whatever situation - personal, economic, political - you find yourself in, you are automatically better off than a person of color would be in an identical situation.

For example, I have the privilege, if asked to leave a sports team, to not have to wonder if my race was a factor in that decision. I have the privilege, when stating my opinion, not to be stereotyped and brushed off as an “angry Black girl.” I have the privilege of being able to comfortably sit here and write a blog post, utterly removed from (and, in many ways, ignorant of) the discrimination that my fellow minority teammates have been subjected to their whole lives.

I have the privilege to choose to imagine these situations, rather than the misfortune of actually having to experience them in real life, every day.

Accepting the reality of white privilege is, for whatever reason, very hard for many people. It was very hard for me - and often still is. There’s a natural psychological response, usually along the lines of, “Well, I didn’t ask to be white. I’m not doing anything wrong.” It’s a defensive reaction that largely misses the point.

The fact is, no one “asked” to be a minority, either - and yet they face stigma and discrimination that I will never be exposed to. While Baltimore and Ferguson are obvious examples, micro-aggressions of racism occur constantly on an individual level, in a way that we, as non-minorities, have to work very hard to open our eyes to.

Looking at yourself in the mirror and realizing that you have been feeding, however unconsciously, into a system of racial discrimination is a very painful and uncomfortable experience. However - and I want to be very clear - this kind of self-confrontation in NO way compares to the fear, frustration, and blatant injustice that non-white individuals face in this country every day. That is their reality; this is our responsibility.

So, where does this fit into the current discussion?

I firmly believe that any discussion of racial discrimination needs to be rooted in concrete, verifiable fact. Accusations and subsequent defences must not arise from gut reactions and feelings, but rather from calm and careful deliberation. Although it is impossible for me, as a current member of this team, not to be emotionally invested in the future of the Georgetown running program, I will do my best to remain objective and recognize legitimate evidence in regards to the current allegations of racism. Furthermore, I pledge to continue the discussion amongst my teammates concerning white privilege and how to confront it, so that we can truly come together as a team -- celebrating our bonds while recognizing our differences and the challenges that come with them.

In turn, I would ask those who have supported the allegations of racism to examine the situation objectively, as best they can. If there is compelling evidence to support your claims, please bring it to light in a clear and verifiable way, so that we can all benefit from a fuller knowledge of the situation. If concrete evidence cannot be produced, I would ask you to also engage in self-examination, as I have pledged to do, to understand why these claims have been made.

I believe that the truth, whatever it may bring, is the path forward for our program, and the only way that we can come together as a group of united and compassionate team members. It is my hope that our differences will not ultimately divide us, but make us stronger than ever before.

Finally, to everyone involved, I would like to say that I remain, always, your ally and your teammate, no matter what happens. I look forward to seeing many of you in a few weeks and continuing this dialogue in person.

Thank you for reading, and feel free to reach out.

-Andrea Keklak