Humble, soft spoken and positive. Ellie Willging personifies what it means to be a champion.
Saint Xavier’s standout runner reached the epitome of her sport last year. Named an NAIA All-American in both the 10K and 5K runs at the 2017 NAIA Outdoor Track and Field Championships, Willging finished her 10,000-meter (roughly 6.2 miles) race with a time of 36:28.78.
Her six-minute mile pace was the best in her field and earned Saint Xavier their second national championship in program history. Among her accomplishments, Willging broke the school record in her Chicagoland Collegiate Athletic Conference run by winning the 10K with a time of 36:16.98.
After an outstanding season, Willging was named to the 2016-17 College Sports Information Directors of America (CoSIDA) Cross Country/Track and Field Academic All-District First Team in May, and also earned the title as 2017 NAIA Track and Field Scholar-Athlete.
Individual success is a product of Willging’s dedication to her team and preparation schedule.
“I think it’s just taking care of the big picture,” Willging said. “Making sure you’re getting enough sleep at night, drink water and keeping things balanced. I try not to get bogged down in that, but I just try to make sure to do the little things so I’m able to run.”
The rigorous schedule for cross country and track and field athletes requires a training regimen to keep their bodies in top shape for competition. Each member of Saint Xavier’s distance group runs roughly 40 miles per week.
As opposed to other organized sports, running routines are often done on an individual’s own time due to varying schedules, paces and requirements. Consequently, it is imperative to highlight unity within a team that may not necessarily meet together each day.
“We kind of just work around our lives,” Willging said. “We do meet as a team for distance runs and workouts, but that’s the thing about running – you’re a part of the team and it’s really important, but you can also do it on your own schedule. We try to be together as a team as much as we can.”
As a core element to Saint Xavier’s National Title, Willging highlights her experiences as a teammate and group success over individual triumphs.
“The most important thing that I’ve taken from my experience so far at Saint Xavier is just how much fun we have as a team,” Willging noted. “Sometimes the running didn’t always go well and, when I look back, I realize that didn’t matter in the end because the experiences we’ve had make up for it.”
Willging also made it clear that there is not one true leader on the team, no matter the amount of success a specific individual has accomplished.
“I think we all talk to each other, really,” she said. “We all build off of each other.”
Willging’s love for competition in organized sport began in grade six. She had always been a fan of distance running, but after dabbing in swimming and soccer, Willging knew she was committed to the sport she loved: running.
Her passion continued in high school and pushed her to pursue an opportunity at the next level.
“It was a blast,” she said. “I liked being a part of the team and I just enjoy competing. The whole experience was positive for me and I wanted to continue.”
Her specialty relates to distance running, but early in her career, she shared her experience as a shot putter.
“I did try to throw a shotput once and I was like, ‘Never mind,’” Willging said with a smile.
There was a time when running for Saint Xavier was not a part of the conversation. Willging began her college career at UIC with hopes to pursue a degree in political science.
However, after reevaluating her future, Willging made herself at home with the Cougars. “I went to UIC as a freshman, but Saint Xavier ended up being a better place for me,” Willging said. “I’m definitely very glad to be here.”
This was a preview of one of the many stories provided in Student Media’s first ever issue of “Tbe Bell.” Look out for the full story in the student magazene on October 6th!