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Once Rivals, Now Teammates: Ivy League Grads Find Success in Post-Collegiate Running Club

Once Rivals, Now Teammates: Ivy League Grads Find Success in Post-Collegiate Running Club

Monday, June 9, 2014 - 10:00am
Georgetown Running Club

Top row (l-r) Dave Burnham, Sean Barrett, Coach Jerry Alexander, Sam Luff, Karl Dusen. Bottom row (l-r) Lindsay O’Brien, Maura Carroll, Hilary May, Susan Hendrick (photo: Jerry Alexander)

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They ran for Harvard, Yale, Columbia, Dartmouth, Cornell, Penn, and Princeton. Some won championships and set records. Others flourished after making the transition to post-collegiate racing.

They are at various stages of their careers—working as a civil engineer, a deputy press secretary for a Cabinet member, an electrical engineer, an attorney, an education marketing manager, a non-profit policy researcher, a Congressional staffer, a financial regulatory analyst, a defense analyst, and a Captain in the U.S. Marine Corps—as well as their personal lives.

What they share is a desire to continue their running careers while also pursuing professional success, and they have been brought together as post-collegiate runners on one of the top racing teams in the Washington DC area, the Georgetown Running Club (GRC).

Lindsay Donaldson O’Brien had a stellar career at Yale. A six-time All American, she finished 3rd at the NCAA Cross Country Championships in 2006, and qualified for nationals 10 times of a possible 12. She was also a five-time Heps champion and placed 3rd or better in every Heps championship race she ran.

After graduating in 2008, O’Brien took some well-deserved time off from racing. Four years, in fact. Burned out from competition, she focused on her career in public health.

However, in April 2012, O’Brien decided last minute to run the Cherry Blossom 10 Mile in Washington DC. During the race, she struck up a conversation with GRC runner and former collegiate competitor Susan Hendrick (Columbia 2007).

Susan Hendrick (left) and Lindsay Donaldson O'Brien during their collegiate racing days, Heps Outdoor Championship 2007 (1500m) (photo – Columbia University)

After speaking to GRC Head Coach Jerry Alexander, himself a former Heps runner (Columbia 1985), O’Brien decided to return to serious training. In two years with GRC, she has become one of the top road runners in the DC area, running 34:38 for 10k and 57:47 for 10 miles. She finished 7th overall (4th American) at the Broad Street 10 Mile in April, in a time of 59:40.

Alexander believes that her potential is unlimited. “Lindsay can be as good as she wants to be. Her talent is extraordinary, as she’s made a seamless transition to longer distances on the roads. And as she continues to learn how to race the longer distances, she’s only going to get better.”

O’Brien manages to fit in her training alongside her position as a Program Analyst at the United States Office of Personnel Management and spending time with her husband, Dan O’Brien, a fellow Yale track alum.

Luke Meyer, a 2005 Yale Graduate and two-time Olympic Trials competitor, joined GRC last fall and has brought a wealth of talent and experience to GRC. Meyer had a stellar career at Yale, winning multiple Heps championships, and was an All-American in cross country and outdoor track. He competed in the 2008 Olympic Trials in the steeplechase, and the 2012 Olympic Trials in the marathon, and also ran for several years for the Oregon Track Club.

Finishing 3rd for the GRC Men’s team at Club Nationals (62nd overall), Meyer also raced well at the 2013 Army 10 mile, finishing 15th overall, and finished 10th in the 10 Mile at the U.S.A. Track and Field (USATF) Championships in 48:44 in April 2014. He works as an attorney in private practice in Washington DC.

The team’s youngest member is Michael Franklin. Franklin, a 2013 Princeton graduate, capped off his outstanding collegiate senior year by placing 5th in the 10,000m at the NCAA championships in June 2013.

Franklin joined GRC in August 2013 when he moved to DC to take a job as an analyst with the Department of Defense. Highlights of his first year with the team include placing 2nd for GRC (52nd overall) at the USATF Club Cross Country Championship in Oregon in December 2013, and winning the 10,000 meters at Penn Relays in April in 29:32.

Though he is the first Princeton alum to join GRC, Alexander hopes he will not be the last. “Princeton has produced many outstanding runners in recent years, and I’d like to think that some of Mike’s former teammates will follow his lead.”

Mike Franklin with GRC Coach JerryAlexander at the 2014 Penn Relays (photo – Penn Relays)

DC area native Susan Hendrick found success at Columbia, winning two Heps titles, setting three Columbia school records in individual and relay events, and earning multiple All-Ivy and Academic All-Ivy honors.

Graduating from Columbia in 2007, she used her final year of collegiate eligibility while in graduate school at Georgetown University, and then competed for the New York Athletic Club (NYAC). Hendrick then took some time off from running competitively. But after returning to DC and competing in several local road races, Hendrick was recruited by Alexander to join GRC. She has since achieved personal records in the 8,000m (29:29), 10,000m (36:22), and 10 mile (61:21).

At Alexander’s suggestion, Hendrick has transitioned back to shorter races on the track, running 4:35 for 1500 and 10:03 for 3,000 this spring. “Susan is a track runner, first and foremost, and although she had success on the roads, the track is where she thrives. With a focus on the track in the future, I think Susan can PR at 3k and 5k, and in the right race, challenge her 1500 PR (4:17),” said Alexander.

Now serving as Deputy Press Secretary for the U.S. Department of Transportation, Hendrick, has become an expert at time management, and appreciates the flexibility and balance that GRC offers.

Fellow Columbia graduate Karl Dusen was All-Ivy in the 5,000m, 10,000m, and cross country, and still holds the school record in the 10,000m (29:00). But when he graduated in 2005, Dusen wasn't sure whether he would keep running, saying, “I was really invested in the team and it was hard to graduate and leave that atmosphere behind.”

While embarking on his career in finance in New York, he joined a group of fellow Columbia alumni in the newly formed Manhattan Track Club. Running with a group he cared about again got him hooked on post-collegiate running, and he qualified for the 2008 Olympic Marathon Trials, held in Central Park. Dusen believes this race was one of the best experiences in his running career.

He joined GRC when he relocated to Maryland for business school in 2009, and considers himself lucky to have found a coach with as much prowess as Alexander. “One of my coaches at Columbia told me that in order to get the most out of your ability, you need to have a coach you can trust, and do what he says 100%,” he said. “That is definitely the case with Jerry.”

For Dusen, his GRC teammates are his main source of motivation. “Running for something more than myself has always made it more meaningful,” he said. Dusen works as an Education Marketing Manager for K12 Inc., and he and his wife have two young children. “I knew having kids would be hard and rewarding, but it is harder and more rewarding than I ever imagined,” he said. “Running definitely dropped on the priority list, but I've been able to keep it going thanks to the support of the team, and the coach.”

For Alexander, the opportunity to work with a Columbia school record holder is something special. He says, “I followed Karl’s exploits at Columbia with great interest, and to be able to work with him now is a real pleasure for me.” Dusen set a GRC club record for 5 miles (24:03) in 2011, and though he has dealt with injuries most of last year, looks to continue his success on the local racing scene in the future.

Dave Burnham (Dartmouth, 2006), was a consistent performer in college, competing in all 12 Heps Championships from freshman year cross country through senior year outdoor track. His highest finish was 4th in the 10,000m (2005) and sixth in cross country (2006), and he was named All-Ivy League and first team Academic All-Ivy League.

However, after leaving Dartmouth, Burnham had a few years when he didn’t put much effort into running. Working on his Masters in engineering at the University of Texas, the hot weather and a lack of motivation deterred him from running seriously.

When he moved to DC in the summer of 2009 he began training again, and found camaraderie and motivation in the form of his new GRC teammates. Now working as an electrical engineer for the U.S. Department of Energy, and married with a one year old daughter, he observes that his greatest struggle now is a lack of time, not motivation. He addresses this in creative ways – occasionally running to and from work, or running on a treadmill at home while the baby sleeps.

But while Burnham continues to see success in racing, including a road PR of 30:54 at10,000m in 2013, he recognizes that he has to be flexible. He says, “I’ve had to come to terms with the fact that I occasionally take days off from running. Planning ahead is essential, but even then it doesn’t always happen. But I stick to the routine as much as possible, and fit a run in whenever I can.”

Sean Barrett had numerous duals with Burnham during his career at Harvard. The 2007 Heps Champion in the 10,000m, Barrett also scored indoors in the Heps at 5,000m in 2006 and 2007, and was Ivy League All-Academic in cross country and USTFCCCA All-Academic in cross country.

Commissioned as an Officer in the U.S. Marine Corps following graduation in 2007, he now holds the rank of Captain. Barrett is a member of the All-Marine Running team and represented the United States in the World Military Cross Country Championship in Serbia in 2013.

Though he has had to work hard to keep up a consistent training schedule over the past several years, given his multiple deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as suffering from severe allergies that keep him out of commission for most of the spring racing season, Barrett has never struggled with the motivation to train. He says, “I’ve been planning my life around getting my runs in.”

Nevertheless, having the support system of GRC has made a big impact. “In college, there were different levels of interest and motivation, and some people were just going through the motions,” he said. “But with GRC, everyone is there to have fun, enjoy each other’s company, and race hard.”

Barrett has found success at longer distances on the roads, running a PR of 2:24 in the 2010 Marine Corps Marathon. Alexander believes Barrett has room to improve at the shorter distances, saying, “Sean is an incredibly hard worker who gets after it at every workout. This year we’re going to peak him indoors, and PRs at 3k and 5k are going to come.”

Hilary May, another Harvard alum, moved to DC after graduating in 2011. May began her post-collegiate career by running with a team of Capitol Hill staffers, acquaintances she met while working as an Assistant on the U.S. House of Representatives Appropriations Committee. But she soon realized she wanted a more competitive environment, and found it with GRC in the spring of 2012. At Harvard, May held the school record in the 1,000m and the indoor/outdoor 4x800m relays, and scored at Heps multiple times in the 800m, 1,000m and 4x800m.

Despite her middle-distance background, Alexander immediately saw May’s potential at longer distances. In 2013 she set GRC club records in the 1,500m (4:30), 3,000m (9:52) and 5,000m (16:56), despite a track season cut short by injury.

May was extremely hesitant to move up to longer distances, but Alexander has helped her make the transition. “Jerry takes a specialized approach, which for me means low mileage but high quality, where every single mile counts,” she said. “I know I haven’t reached my limit, and Jerry thinks the same.”

Though he had a solid career at Cornell, Sam Luff has come into his own with GRC. While at Cornell, Luff scored at Heps in the steeplechase, and ran PRs on the track of 14:34 for 5,000m and 30:36 for 10,000m.

After graduating in 2009, he spent 14 months job hunting in his hometown of Allentown, PA, and did not train seriously. The time off came to an end when he moved to DC in the fall of 2010 to begin working as a financial regulatory analyst at the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA), and joined GRC.

In the spring of 2011 Luff ran PRs of 14:15 and 30:14, both of which were GRC club records, and in 2012 he saw a huge breakthrough in running 29:37 for 10,000m at Penn Relays.

Luff says that GRC is the training environment he was looking for, describing it as “Normal guys with jobs, running because they want to.” He appreciates this more relaxed approach, in contrast to collegiate racing, where he was often stressed about making the travel team and scoring in big races.

“If I run a big race now, no matter what happens, I know I’m going to work on Monday morning regardless, and that mindset has helped me a lot,” he said.

Luff left no doubt of his talent in fall 2013, finishing 5th for the team and 92nd overall in the USATF Club Cross Country National Championships, despite his epic fall mid-race.

Luff’s future may be in longer distances on the roads, but for now, his focus remains on the track and cross country. Luff is looking forward to the 2014 Club Nationals at Lehigh, which is a course he ran many times growing up in nearby Emmaus, PA.

Sam Luff takes a crash landing at the 2013 USATF Club Cross Country Championships (photo: swensonphoto)

Maura Carroll, who works as a civil engineer, found GRC through Cornell teammate Sam Luff when she moved to DC following graduation in 2011. Though she wasn’t looking to run competitively, and was hoping only to make some new friends in a city where she lacked social connections, Carroll soon demonstrated her skills, running a GRC club record 17:27 for 5,000m on the track in 2012.

Carroll is in the process of transitioning to longer distance on the roads, where Alexander thinks she has great potential. A soccer player in high school, and a walk-on at Cornell, Carroll found collegiate success in the steeplechase, placing 4th in the Heps and 5th in the ECAC during her senior year. She stills enjoys running, but keeps it in perspective. “In college, there was more pressure to do well, and you felt it on every run and every race,” she said. “Now, there is no shortage of time.”

Carroll has benefitted from Alexander’s low-key approach, saying, “He gives us enough freedom to do what we want to do, though he does try and steer us in the direction he believes we can go. He is hands on for the most part, but understands if we need a break or need to adjust our training schedules.”

New to the team this year is Tina Morrison, a 2006 University of Pennsylvania alum. Morrison joined GRC last fall after Susan Hendrick recognized her at a local 5K and introduced her to Coach Alexander. Morrison had taken a seven-year hiatus from the track after college, and only competed in low-key road races from time to time. After joining the team, Morrison ramped up her workouts, with a goal to PR in the 5K. She has accomplished this, and would like to lower her 5k time even further and get her post-collegiate 1500m best on the track next spring.

“The best thing about running with my GRC teammates is that they are all inspiring, accomplished women who are dedicated to smashing their running goals in the midst of strenuous work routines and busy personal lives,” she said. “We come from varied backgrounds and have diverse interests, but bond over our common love of running.”

Morrison also appreciates the guidance provided by Coach Jerry. “I've never met a coach as dedicated and tuned in to his athletes as Coach Jerry,” she said. “He would go to the moon and back for the team if they asked him to.” Morrison works as an Advancement Officer for the Smithsonian Institution.

Asked why GRC is such a popular destination for Heps graduates, Alexander says, “The DC area is a talent magnet, and it’s not surprising that many Ivy Leaguers come here for work or grad school. GRC is geared towards runners with careers, so we’re a natural choice for athletes who work full-time and want to continue to compete after college.”

Now that GRC has established a pipeline of Heps athletes, the recruiting takes care of itself, though Alexander is always working hard to grow the team. Belying any expectation of rivalry, GRC athletes enjoy running together with fellow Heps graduates, even when current teammates are former collegiate competitors.

Sean Barrett observes that the Ivy League is a close-knit environment where the coaches recruit from the same talent pool, and the athletes respect and know each other well. According to Hilary May, “The student athlete experience at an Ivy League school is a unique one, which has brought us closer together. There is no rivalry between us at all.”

Join the GRC for the Father's Day 8K this weekend! Details ... 

About the Author

Erin Masterson is a runner and writer based in Alexandria, Virginia. She has served since 2014 as the President of the NOVA Running Club, a diverse community running club based in Alexandria. A track and cross country athlete at the College of William and Mary, Erin transitioned to long distance running after college. She completed three consecutive Boston Marathons from 2013-2015, with a personal best time of 3:08:24 in 2015. During that period, as part of a phase of “serial racing,” Erin completed 79 races in three years, including “30 for 30” the year she turned 30 in 2013 and “31 for 31” in 2014. Erin is an RRCA Level II-certified running coach. She balances her training, coaching, and NOVA responsibilities with her job at Virginia Hospital Center.