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The top runners

Photo by: Henoc Kivuye


In the high altitudes of northern Colorado, freshman Layne Hammer was prepping for her daily run.

In 2010, cross-country was just a prep tool for her main focus, swimming. She ran alongside her friends, catching up on gossip and anticipating the moment where they could all stop and put their bodies back in a state of rest.

She ran and ran and ran, until the movements between her arms, legs and abs all became muscle memory.

Cross-country, without Hammer’s knowledge, was becoming more than just a hobby, but a passion.

“I ran cross-country because I needed to stay in shape for swimming,” Hammer said. “Every season I kept coming back for my friends. It wasn’t until my senior year of high school that I came back because I wanted to.”

In her early years at Greeley West High School, Hammer never felt a true connection with running.

The sport was always just a workout for her swimmer’s body. Part of that reason, according to Hammer, was because of the lack of encouragement from her coaches.

“I didn’t really have decent coaches my freshman and sophomore year of high school,” Hammer said. “But then Coach Davis came along, and I just developed a friendship with him. He’s my biggest supporter.”

For Hammer, it would have been easy to give up, considering cross-country was not her main priority.

Now that she is at Oklahoma Christian University and a member of the Lady Eagles cross-country team, things have changed.

“Last year I didn’t really know if I wanted to run in college or not,” Hammer said. “But now that I am here, I’m happy that I’m doing it.”

In the Chile Pepper Festival, Hammer posted a top-50 finish, leading Oklahoma Christian to 19th place overall. It was Hammer’s fourth top-50 finish this season as a freshman.

“When you have a really good race, you get a really good sense of fulfillment,” Hammer said. “I keep running because I want to keep feeling about myself like that.”

Hammer’s teammates are seeing big things from the freshman, expecting her to carry the team to great heights over her years at Oklahoma Christian.

“She contributes a tremendous amount to the team,” sophomore Tara Lewis, the Lady Eagles’ top runner, said. “With me being out due to injury she has taken over the number one spot and is leading the team very well.”

According to Hammer, one of the biggest challenges in the transition from high school to college cross-country is becoming teammates with a completely different set of people.

“I don’t know everyone on the team super well yet, but we all know what we’re going through and that’s my favorite part of the team,” Hammer said. “We’re all doing the same distance so we all know what struggle everyone is facing. It has a sense of camaraderie.”

From working out for her swim meet back in Greeley, Colo. to waking up before sunrise for her daily cross-country workouts at Oklahoma Christian, Hammer has made a full circle in the last three years with the sport.

With her focus on improving her record and heading to nationals in her coming collegiate years, Hammer truly enjoys the sport now.

“Running started off as a hobby and a way to be around my teammates,” Hammer said. “But it’s easy to go out now and run. It’d be great to win the national championship. I want to get close with the team and do our best.”

Nine hundred and eighty miles from Greeley, in Austin, Texas, Oklahoma Christian junior Roberto Diaz was once using cross-country as a tool to build muscle for his priority sport, soccer.

“My high school required all athletes to do two sports,” Diaz said. “I joined cross-country my sophomore year because I needed to get fit for soccer. After my first race, cross-country had chosen me.”

At the Saint Andrews Episcopal High School in Austin, Diaz led the Crusaders to the Southwest Preparatory Conference title.

Diaz participated in events like the 10,000-meter race and posted a 4:09 mile.

“I ended up being a lot better at cross-country than at soccer,” Diaz said. “I cracked the top-50 runners in miles in Texas.”

Entering his senior year of high school, Diaz received many offers from colleges ranging from major Division I powerhouses to Division III schools.

“Oklahoma Christian just happened to fall under my radar,” Diaz said. “Coach Miller contacted me and seemed super interested. I knew that at a D1 school, I would be just a number. Coach Miller actually made me feel like a player. That was a huge deal.”

Cross-country serves as Diaz’s base for always wanting to do better.

According to Diaz, the sport plays an important role in his life.

“The competitive aspect is my favorite part about cross-country, definitely,” Diaz said. “Going after people and doing everything you can to catch them is thrilling. It pushes yourself to that limit that you know you can reach. I love that high when I get done with a race. It’s exhilarating.”

According to Diaz, he does not want cross-country to be just an extra-curricular in college. He strives to keep the sport as an active role in his life.

“I love that I’m not just working for myself,” Diaz said. “I have to make my school, teammates and family proud. I would definitely consider going professional if I was fast enough, and I wouldn’t mind coaching at a school either. I enjoy motivating people.”


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