As a fourth-year member of Emory’s varsity cross country and track and field (XC/TF) teams, I felt disheartened to read the Wheel’s recent article detailing the negative accounts of eight student-athletes who have left the team due to disagreements with the coaching staff. While I do not fully understand the particular circumstances that drove these individuals to quit, I can speak to my own time on the team. My experience has been one of incredible opportunities for personal growth, numerous chances to compete at the conference and national level, and, most importantly, genuine friendships.
Therefore, while I don’t mean to discount the views of the athletes who have quit, I hope to provide a perspective that the article was mostly lacking: that of the over 80 athletes who remain on the team. Over the past four years, I have seen immense improvement in XC/TF’s culture through the efforts of these individuals, who remain dedicated to what is still Emory’s largest varsity sports team.
This change of culture is also due to the work of Head Coach Linh Nguyen and his assistants. Since the beginning of this academic year, he has brought unity and stability to XC/TF, leading the team to a level of success not seen in a decade. From the beginning, Nguyen was crystal clear about the intent behind his rules. They are not meant to be unilateral or heavy handed; rather, they heighten the expectations for XC/TF athletes to be in line with those of every other varsity sport at Emory, pushing us to be the best versions of ourselves both on and off the track.
Since their adoption, these policies have been enforced with both fairness and consideration for our outside lives. This includes the attendance policy referenced many times in the article. Before ever meeting Nguyen, I emailed him to let him know that I would have to miss a cross country meet because I had to take the LSAT. He was completely understanding and even took genuine interest in my law school application process. Other athletes have missed practices and competitions this year with permission for various reasons including weddings, bar mitzvahs and illness. I’ve never seen Nguyen take issue as long as these conflicts are unavoidable and communicated within a reasonable timeframe.
Those who quit also mentioned injury was another disincentive to remain on the team. Unfortunately, due to the repetitive and intense motions involved in the sport, injuries in XC/TF are relatively common occurrences with any training method. Since arriving, Nguyen has implemented new injury prevention strategies including beginning and ending most runs with strengthening exercises. When injuries do occur, a straightforward process exists for athletes to visit the athletic trainers and cross-train until the trainers give them clearance to begin practicing again.
I know from my experience dealing with injury for two months this Fall that it can be a lonely and frustrating path. Healing from my injury involved hours of rehab each week in addition to daily cross-training sessions, away from the team, in the pool or on the bike. However, Nguyen was with me every step of the way, working with the athletic trainers to manage my injury and get me back into running as soon as I was healthy. By communicating with Nguyen, I was able to gradually build up my mileage at a rate I felt was sustainable. Several weeks ago, I ran a personal best time in the 3k, which I attribute in large part to Nguyen’s smart and consistent training plan.
As with any varsity sport at Emory, commitment to XC/TF involves a trade-off with other activities and free time. Participation in varsity athletics is a privilege, not a right, and so athletes who don’t wish to meet these demands are free to leave the team. However, from what I have learned over the past four years, the results are life-changing for those who stick it out. My time as a XC/TF athlete has given me passion, purpose and a sense of community I haven’t gained from any other organization. It’s been incredible to share this experience with my fellow athletes, and after I graduate, I look forward to seeing the team continue to reach new heights with Nguyen at its helm.
Andrew Kliewer (20C) is from Dallas.