TERRE HAUTE _ “So this is what the final meters of the LaVern Gibson Championship Cross Country Course looks like,” Autumn Beachy must have thought as she raced toward the finish Friday.
Her Purdue coaches would've forgiven Beachy if she had paused midstride to take it all in: the brightness of the blue banners, the clarity of the finish clock, the warmth of the September sun.
Beachy was finishing upright and conscious at LaVern Gibson for the first time in five tries, erasing an agonizing history of high school and collegiate racing despair.
The 2010 DeKalb graduate and current junior for the Boilermakers finished 15th in the Indiana Intercollegiate Cross Country Championships with a 5-kilometer finishing time of 18 minutes, 33 seconds. She was fourth man for Purdue, which finished runner-up to Indiana University in the meet for only Indiana universities and colleges.
Indiana finished with 29 points while Purdue totaled 43. Indiana ran without its top runner, Carroll High School graduate Samantha Ginther, who will debut later this season.
On the men's side, Indiana, led in part by a ninth-place finish overall by another Carroll graduate, Robby (Kleber) Nierman, and a 12th-place finish by DeKalb graduate Nate Morrow, won the race with 49 points.
Butler, behind a 12th-place finish by Carroll graduate James Martin, was second with 70 points.
Indiana did not run Leo product Andy Bayer, a 2011 NCAA Cross Country All-American. Bayer will debut later this season.
Beachy's troubles began in the 2008 IHSAA championships when she collapsed in the final meters of the race. She was in the top 10 when she fell, and her all-state honors slipped away in the agonizing minutes that followed. She regained her footing only to fall once more, then crawled to the finish 133rd.
She was so haunted by the experience that her senior year at the 2009 IHSAA championships was only slightly better; she stayed on her feet but was hardly competitive.
Despite wearing a Purdue uniform, Beachy couldn't quite shake the LaVern Gibson hex. As a freshman at the 2010 NCAA Pre-Nationals race, she finished the race but was escorted quickly to the medical tent for treatment. And finally, last year at the 2011 NCAA Pre-Nationals meet, she passed out late in the race and didn't finish.
So why even run Friday? Why would she even think of traveling down to Terre Haute?
“I had a great summer of training,” Beachy said. “I stayed at Purdue and trained with the other girls, and that really helped.”
Part of the reason Beachy stayed in West Lafayette was to concentrate on her studies, as she is a double major in neurobiology and physiology. Speaking of neuro-related topics, how did she handle the race mentally?
“I told myself that I just needed to go out real conservatively,” Beachy said. “I really held back, so I had a lot left.”
But as she made the turn for home with 600 meters remaining, did she have flashbacks?
Did she entertain thoughts of losing consciousness again?
“No, I had a plan to remember to focus on a certain sign (3-mile mark),” Beachy said. “I got there and the sign was clear. I knew I was going to be all right.”
Beachy might have paid a price for her conservative race plan, but the dividends were worth it.
“We finished 3-4-5,” Beachy said of teammates' places in the meet. “I should have been up in that pack, but that's all right.”
Local squads compete
IPFW, Indiana Tech teams finish well
In the men's meet, Indiana Tech placed 13th as Columbia City's Brendon Zoltek (128th) was its sixth man.
IPFW placed 19th with former Homestead runner Brandon Perry (117th) as third man.
Other former area standouts competing in the race, along with their finishes, were Norwell's Alex Cushman (19th overall for the University of Indianapolis) and Bishop Luers' Billy McManus (43rd for Wabash),
In the women's meet, IPFW placed sixth and Indiana Tech placed 19th.
Former area standouts competing in the race, along with their finishes, were Carroll's Becca Downs (14th for IUPUI), Kaylee McClanahan (64th for Southern Indiana) and Jordan Mornout (86th for Southern Indiana) and Concordia's Anna Reibs (79th for IPFW).