Three members on the Emory University track and field teams were named University Athletic Association (UAA) Athlete of the Week on April 12. Among them was sophomore distance runner Annika Urban who set a school record in the 5000m race on April 9 at the Flames Invitational, placing fifth in the event with a time of 17:14:41.
Yet, Urban’s path to success at Emory began long before she stepped foot on campus. Originally from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Urban was a competitive swimmer as a child but decided to try cross country in middle school. She quickly fell in love with the team dynamic and being able to have leisurely conversations during trail runs. Swimming, on the other hand, is much more of an individual sport. She eventually stopped swimming to fully invest her time into running.
At the beginning of the college recruitment process, Urban knew she wanted track to stay a part of her life. Urban reached out to college coaches and eventually chose Emory, citing the school’s care for its students as the difference maker in her decision. The southern climate helped Emory’s chances, too.
“I felt like I could see myself fitting in,” Urban said. “I also have to admit that the beautiful campus and warmer weather were very appealing.”
Urban’s favorite event is the 5000m race, but she also partakes in the 1500m and 3000m during track season, 6000m in cross country and 3000m during the indoor track season.
Although Urban has been extremely successful throughout her college career, she has faced obstacles that challenged her performance and taught her lessons about how to take care of her body. Urban has exercise-induced asthma which has caused her many issues in the past, but she has learned to manage it. Still, in a sport like track, asthma can be a huge hurdle to overcome. “I’m grateful that I’ve been able to manage it for the most part,” Urban said. “But it definitely makes me realize how valuable my lungs are and how it’s so important to treat my body well.”
On top of the asthma, Urban has had to learn to balance academics and sports. During her freshman year of high school, Urban ran so much that she ended up with a stress fracture. Since the incident, though, Urban has learned how important it is to listen to her body, she said.
Sticking to her values has been key in helping Urban reach her goals even as adversaries present themselves. Persistence, for instance, is important to her because progress doesn’t come quickly, she said. By putting in the work, she has been able to get faster over time. She currently has a personal best of 11:13:46 in the 3000m run and 5:37:88 in the mile.
Similarly, Urban mentioned how the word “stimulus” is frequently used by her head coach Linh Nguyen. The term is used to describe how quality practices are crucial to development and that you have to see every day as an opportunity to improve.
“You can’t expect to get better if you show up at practice every day just to get through it,” Urban said. “You really have to see every day as an opportunity to get better.”
Urban uses this mentality to get better each and every day. Teammate Bella Racette, junior distance runner, also praised Urban’s dedication to the sport and desire to get better at every practice and meet while simultaneously being a great teammate.
“I think one of the keys to her success was that she pushed through all the adversities freshman year can throw at you — sickness, new and harder training,” Racette said. “She’s made huge jumps and run some amazing races this year, but she makes everyone on the team feel like their performances are important, too. She really celebrates little victories for all of her teammates.”
Similarly, Nguyen is proud of Urban for her successful season.
“She’s having a really fantastic and historic season so far,” Nguyen said. “Annika made a commitment over the last year to really take her training to the next level. She’s really the model student-athlete and has been awesome to work with. I think she has a lot more left in the tank and am excited to see what she does in the future.”
On top of the work Urban puts in on the track, she also takes routine steps off the track to strengthen the mental side of her game. The night before races, Urban indulges in her mom’s special walnut chicken recipe. Although she claims to not have her mom’s cooking skills, Urban still makes the meal for herself as part of her pre-race routine while watching film and imagining herself racing to get her into the proper mindset.
Whether it is working hard at practice or the special chicken dish, Urban is clearly making strides. While the pandemic has interfered with athletics, she and the rest of her team have continued to persevere. She attributes her personal achievements to all of the hard work and preparation put in before a race.
“I like to think of racing as an opportunity to show off everything I’ve been working towards,” Urban said. “Seeing that pay off in the form of breaking a record is so rewarding.”