Two former Haines High School classmates competing in Division I track say they’re achieving a childhood dream.
Chandler Kemp, 20, runs indoor and outdoor track for Cornell University, as well as cross-country. Christine Hansen, 20, last fall qualified as a walk-on for Marquette University’s indoor and outdoor track teams.
Hansen and Kemp graduated from high school in 2008 after standout sports careers that for each included cross-country, basketball and track.
At Marquette, Hansen competed in club rowing her freshman year before becoming the women’s track team’s only walk-on after a three-day trial workout last fall. Between September and April she runs 300-meter, 500-meter and 600-meter races indoors.
In April and May, it’s outdoors for the 400-meter hurdles and the 4-by-400 relay. Hansen travels to meets around the Midwest, and competes in meets where there are dozens of schools.
She said workouts at college are more than twice as difficult as ones at high school. They’re every day and sometimes last four hours. On a given day a workout might include weightlifting and running 20 sets of 200-meter hill climbs, with only a 90-second rest in between.
Unlike at high school, Hansen no longer runs at the head of the pack, but she said she’s happy just to be able to compete.
"I like the challenge. I’d always wanted to do a college sport since I was really young and found out there were college sports. I like a structured sport, and being part of a team. Athletics has been such a huge part of my life, I wanted to see if I could do it in college, too," Hansen said in a recent interview.
A highlight, she said, is competing in meets with Olympic-level athletes, including witnessing a record high-jump. "It was more than seven feet. That’s higher than a doorway. It was really neat to see."
Hansen runs 400 meters at 60 seconds, about six or seven seconds slower than Olympic women’s athletes. A former high school hurdler and discus thrower, her goal is to reduce her best time in the 400-meter hurdles from 1:07.05 down to around 1:04, which would qualify her for the Big East Conference championship meet.
What she’s getting from running besides self-improvement, Hansen said, is first-hand knowledge of high-performance training and sports medicine she hopes to use as she pursues her degree in physical therapy. Several of her teammates also are studying physical therapy.
"That’s kind of neat because there’s a connection there, and it’s definitely a plus in that direction," she said.
Kemp runs the 10-kilometer race and the 3-kilometer steeplechase at Cornell. He’s logged a time of 31:01 in the 10K and 9:29 in the steeplechase, a type of hurdling event that includes four immovable 36-inch barriers and a water jump on each lap.
He’s run at dozens of meets, with finishes ranging from first place to third from last. His major goal is to qualify for the Ivy League championship meet and place there. That would take a time of 9:19 in the steeplechase or 30:10 in the 10K. "I think it’s doable," he said.
Indoor track is more of a training season for Kemp, as his two main events aren’t part of that season. Like Hansen, competing at the college level was a longtime dream of Kemp’s. Two members of his team qualified for the Olympic trials, but Kemp said he’d be surprised to get that far.
"I don’t want to say ‘no,’ but it would be a pretty magnificent improvement." Athletic scholarships aren’t offered at Ivy League colleges, so for his effort Kemp gets "a couple pair of free shoes."
"It’s pretty fun and it’s something that I always wanted to do – compete in college," he said.
In cross-country, Kemp is about a half-second from qualifying for the Ivy League championships in the 8K race. He was named Most Valuable Freshman two years ago and also has won academic honors. He runs up to 90 miles a week.
Last year he set the course record for the Fourth of July Mount Ripinsky Run at 25:12, 38 seconds faster than the previous best, set by former high school and college runner Carl Blackhurst.
Kemp was back at Cornell this week. He said he likely wouldn’t run the Ripinsky race again until after his college career.