I recall perusing the Ithaca College Athletics website a couple of weeks ago, reading about the upcoming NCAA championships, and I wondered what it would be like for cross country runners to compete in a pack of over 200 runners, possibly navigating all manner of precipitation and lousy traction. I noticed that the men would run at 10:45 am, and the women would take off an hour later, increasing the chances that the course would be even more chewed up if the conditions were muddy.
The website said, “On the women’s side, the Bombers will be guided by senior Parley Hannan, the Atlantic Region Athlete of the Year.” That much was known. What was not known, however, was that Hannan would lead not only the ten runners representing the Bombers, but the rest of the 277 runners as well. That’s right, Parley ran a 20:53.8 (averaging 5:36/mile), winning the Bombers’ first-ever individual cross country national championship by a whopping 18 seconds.
In preparing to speak with Parley, I did a bit of background research, and I had to read her bio twice. It conveyed that she was a four-sport athlete in high school (soccer, lacrosse, swimming and squash) and I looked again to see if cross country was on that list. Incredibly it was not.
I asked Parley if I (or the bio) had missed something, and she said “No, I attempted cross country once in high school, but we ran some hills in the second practice, and I was done. I said, ‘I’ll never do cross country again.’”
Later, Hannan said, “I started running on my own. My brother was a huge runner, and I did it for therapeutic reasons. I started really enjoying it. I was playing tennis here at I.C., and I would run 6 miles before a match.”
I asked Parley about her dominant win at the NCAAs, and whether the muddy conditions (at E.P. “Tom” Sawyer State Park in Louisville, Kentucky) were a factor. She said, “I didn’t think it was that bad, and I had definitely seen worse.”
There was no shortage of inner fire and desire for Parley as she stepped up to the starting line. “I knew I had worked so hard that there was no reason for me not to win. I really didn’t know how far ahead I was, and at one point some of the Geneseo fans were yelling ‘She’s right there!’ (referencing Geneseo’s Genny Corcoran), but I didn’t know if she really was. All I knew is how bad I wanted it.”
Knowing that my buddy Ian Golden knows just about everything about every runner in the area, I asked him if her achievement was as impressive in his opinion as it was in mine. Ian, ever the passionate advocate of the multi-dimensional benefits of the sport he lives and breathes, was not brief in his answer. I loved his answer, so much in fact that I am sharing it in its entirety.
In Ian’s words, “She’s an incredible individual. On one hand it’s mind boggling that she’s gotten to the level that she now is as a runner in very short order. On the other I think what she’s now experiencing, and what the rest of us are now witnessing, is the culmination of a lifetime of experiences and challenges. She executed perfectly at Nationals. I had full body goose bumps streaming it live that morning. She ran exactly as she hoped she would. She had complete confidence that she was capable of winning, and wanted that. But, more importantly, that’s not what it was necessarily about. She ran her own race. She cut her own lines where appropriate, moved where she felt it. She ran completely in the moment, totally immersed. It’s evident that through that effort she finds herself, finds peace. I’m really excited and looking forward to see where things go from here on the competitive front. But, I’d be no less excited for her if she walked away from competition tomorrow. She runs for reasons that are pure and personal, finds herself in those moments. I think that’s as, if not more, beautiful and worthy a cause than any award or title could bring or offer.”
Thanks, Ian, for those insightful words, and congratulations, Parley, on such a historic achievement.