Inspirational captain aims for strong finish

by Adam Fink

Minnesota women’s cross country runner Jill Field’s face broke into a big smile before trying to describe her role on the team.

As one of three senior captains, Field is looking to break into the top seven runners – and a spot at the Big Ten Championship meet – during her final year of eligibility.

“The last few years I figured I would be a middle of the pack runner,” Field said after pausing for a moment. “I want to do the best I can, but I also want to be a motivator and help the team do well.”

This is the life of Field, a Barnesville, Minn., native whose positive attitude and work ethic have been an inspiring influence on the Gophers.

After last spring’s outdoor track and field competition, Field has personal confidence for the upcoming cross country season. The two-time letter winner had what she considers the best performance of her career.

Field competed in the 3,000- and 5,000-meter runs at the NCAA outdoor championships and finished as the sixth and fifth highest Gopher, respectively.

“It just started clicking,” the 22-year-old said. “Dropping times in those events really motivated me. It showed me I could be up there.”

It wasn’t always this way. Field was devastated after the third stress fracture in span of 12 months forced her to redshirt her freshman year.

As a top high school recruit with Minnesota, South Florida, Arkansas and Wisconsin in hot pursuit of her services, sitting out a year was not on her freshman to-do list.

While the injury slowed her growth as a runner, Field flourished as a role model for hard work, dedication and rehabilitation.

“Runners go through ups and downs,” the three-time all-state cross country runner said. “When I was coming back, (former cross country runner) Minna Haronoja ran with me and made me stick with it.”

The hard work paid off. After her redshirt freshman season, Field was named the team’s Comeback Athlete of the Year.

“Many runners never work hard enough to come back from a serious injury,” women’s cross country coach Gary Wilson said. “She did. She is very tough and a great leader.”

Field’s resolve was tested her sophomore year. There was no injury, no side problems and, most disheartening, no explanations for her struggles on the course. A once-promising career was on the rocks.

“I went into a slump,” Field said. “It just wasn’t going well.”

While Haronoja helped Field recover from injuries, the team helped recover her confidence: They named Field captain.

“I realized people perceived me better than I saw myself,” Field said. “I was like, ‘OK, I can do this.’ “

Last year Field competed in six meets and was the Gophers top finisher at the Wisconsin-Eau Claire Invitational.

While a trip to the Big Ten meet would cap her Gophers career, Field has learned about herself and life through running.

Now, Field hopes her teammates can take something away from her time in the maroon and gold.

“The ups and downs have made me realize there is more to life than running,” Field said. “When all is said and done, I want to be happy and able to walk away knowing I made the most with my time as a Gopher.”

Memorial “Oz” run

minnesota women’s cross country team opens its season Saturday with the third annual Memorial “Oz” run at Les Bolstad Golf Course.

For the first time, Drake will not take part in the event. The event is named after its former coach, Gary Osborn, who died May 21, 2000. Wilson and Osborn were longtime friends.