Student Athlete Column: When The Door Closes


In her last year running Cross Country, Mary Kathryne Underwood reflects on her journey. (Courtesy of Fordham Athletics)

One of the most daunting characteristics of senior year is how definite the closures seem. It’s not like high school, where closures are really just the opening of new doors. You may have had your last lunch with your friends, gone to one final football game or had one last class with that teacher you’ve known since you were young, but there’s more of this in a new, exciting way in college. This especially holds true for student-athletes who continue their athletic careers in college. Although that last high school race or game may feel bittersweet, there’s a sense of excitement knowing that you are opening a new door for the future ahead. 

But what happens when that final door closes? Well, I don’t know yet. Next Friday, I will be running my last ever cross country race, leaving me with a strange feeling that I don’t particularly know how to describe. I started running cross country in seventh grade to spend more time with my older sister who was running it as a freshman in high school. I hated it initially, a feeling that had everything to do with the fact that I am a natural sprinter and not a distance runner. It didn’t feel natural to me for many years. Still, its difficulty felt like a challenge that I knew I could overcome, and there was no way I would quit. 

Although I was a sprinter and jumper during indoor and outdoor track, I kept running cross country because I felt I had some potential even though it didn’t come naturally. Slowly but surely, I progressed at it throughout high school, going from 10th on our team freshman year to second in the state by my senior year. By then, I had grown to love the sport and its ability to push and challenge one’s mental and physical boundaries, along with the team camaraderie that came with it. 

The convoluted nature of my collegiate cross country career has left me with complex feelings surrounding its closure. Besides a few awkward-feeling races my freshman year, cross country was put to the side for me throughout all of college. I was partially okay with this because something just didn’t feel right all of the times that I attempted it collegiately; it had felt as unnatural as it did in seventh grade. This is the first year since my senior year of high school that I have been fully immersed in cross country, something that I wasn’t sure how I felt about at first, but now I am glad I did it. I remembered all of the things I love about distance running and how strong its challenging moments can make you feel. I will honestly say that, despite how great I have felt training this season, I think that I have yet to compete to my fullest potential. However, I have always been tough on myself, making it difficult for me to ever be satisfied with my performance. Nevertheless, the conclusion of this season will give me the proper closure I would have lacked had I not done it. 

Regardless of how my last cross country race goes, I will always look back on the sport and think of all it has taught me and how much I’ve grown from it. I will think of all the challenges I overcame and how wrong the people who told me I would never be able to do it were. And most of all, I will remember how it taught me to believe in myself no matter how tough the obstacle, no matter how long the road.