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Hannah Miller: Running for New Zealand

PostPosted: Mon Aug 19, 2019 9:08 pm
by PonyPride
By Hannah Miller, on

Running for New Zealand

I grew up on a small farm in New Zealand and although I was always a very active child and played basic team sports, I dedicated most of my younger years to ballet and the performing arts. I loved our local athletics days, often winning the middle-distance races. But beyond that, I associated sports with big teams, and I was more fascinated by activities where results were a direct reflection of my individual work ethic.

The first time I considered making a serious switch to sports was in my second year of high school. I stayed at my school’s boarding house and a few of the girls trained under a local club coach for athletics. I liked running and found myself winning the school sports day events, so eventually decided to tag along on one of their workout days. This was my first experience with competitive running and the gritty nature of it had me hooked.

I think my first Coach, Lance Smith, was somewhat surprised I had managed to keep the pace with the other girls and finish a hard workout. A very quiet but commanding man, he didn’t say much other than “well done” and “see you tomorrow.”

When I actually showed up the next day, I think I had won his approval and as they say, the rest is history. What really excited me about track was the idea of “effort in equaled results reaped”. Not afraid of hard work for an opportunity to achieving big goals, this was very much down my alley!

Joining The Mustangs
As I continued running, I became quite intrigued by the idea of college sports in the United States. I knew of a couple of girls who were on scholarships in the US and it seemed like a great opportunity. I looked at a couple of schools but chose SMU for a variety of factors.

Overall, I wanted a competitive academic environment and a smaller, more personable team. Plus, I connected well with the other girls on the track & field and cross country teams and (former head coach) Coach Casey seemed like a perfect fit.

The ultimate deciding factor for SMU, however, was the way the school made me feel throughout the entire recruiting process. I always felt like I was more than just a number. Not just another athlete to put in four years, but an individual that could be developed and pushed for more. Since SMU was a small school, I also knew I’d receive a more hands-on experience where I felt more valued.

So, here I was. Ready to take my first trip to the US.

A Different Kind of Culture Shock
Running for the SMU cross country team was completely new to me. Mostly, I was shocked when I realized that 300+ women would all meet me at the starting line. Whereas, in New Zealand, you’d have only a handful of girls running each race. The sheer number of runners was absolutely insane to me.

Our team saw some great success in my first year and I even ended up making it to Nationals which was super cool. But I felt like I bombed NCAAs as I didn’t perform overly well. It was frustrating to say the least.

Heading into my sophomore year, I felt like I started to perform better, mostly because I learned how to handle some of the pressure I kept putting on myself.

Generally speaking, I knew that I had more in me than what my results showed in my first two years at SMU. Nonetheless, I didn’t want to look at them as “failures” but rather learning lessons. Now, it was just a matter of figuring out what I needed to do to perform at my very best.

I am a very type A, perfection-driven person, which is good and allows me to work extremely hard, but at times, it drives me to overdo things and mentally talk myself out of success.

I knew I was in really great shape, and with the help of Coach Casey, I became better at reframing my “failures” and really flourished in terms of how I set about racing in my junior year.

Representing New Zealand
Something that certainly helped me work on my mindset was the honor of representing New Zealand at the World University Games. I was granted this opportunity twice, which was a huge honor.

In 2017, I travelled to Taiwan where I ran the 5000m and this year, in 2019, this experience led me to Naples, Italy. In 2017, I was mostly dealing with my nerves and absorbing as much as I could. But the second time round, I set high expectations for myself.

My goal was to finish in the top five and run tough. I always set place and time goals but also back those up with action goals. In a race, lots of things are out of our individual control, but we always have the option to race gritty, and make bold moves backing ourselves – and this was my main aim. I didn’t want to leave the track with something more to give.

The World University Games 2019
In 2019, New Zealand was one of 118 participating nations and I was one of roughly ~6,000 student-athletes from all around the world that competed in 18 sports for gold, silver, and bronze medals.

I was the only female distance runner representing New Zealand which can be intimidating but also brings a feeling of great honor as it speaks to the caliber of atheticism required to be on the starting line. This year, I ran both the 10k and 5k which made for a very full week of competition.

I ended up finishing 11th in the 10k and 9th in the 5k. Although I did better than what I was ranked going in, I had failed to reach my place goal of top five in each event.

Not quite reaching expectations is always difficult to make meaning of, especially when I think of all the work done prior to such an event. But that is sports – some days, others have more in the tank, and you have to take that and use it to work harder or smarter for the next event.

I love the saying “success is never owned, it’s rented”. This is so true. Some days, you just don’t have enough to take it. But the cool thing is, there is always another race around the corner to claim it back, and so you have to take missed marks on the chin, take solace in the fact you gave your all in the moment, and get back to work for the next chance.

At the end of the day, sports hold this magical element of intrigue because it’s about humans in their most basic states, figuring out what they really want and how hard they are prepared to work to get that.

The performances are important but the learning that comes from preparation and imperfect races provides a much greater insight to long-term success. So, simply having the opportunity to be a part of such an amazing event on the world stage holds phenomenal value in itself.

The atmosphere around the event is hard to describe. It’s such a big learning experience. You have athletes from various backgrounds and cultures who understand the difficulties of competitive athletics like no other. They all can relate to the dedication it takes to perform at these events. And also, the heart break experienced when you don’t.

The Greatest Experience
All athletes gathered together on the first day for the opening ceremony. It’s such a special experience that carries an atmosphere of prestige and honor.

Prior to marching, all the nations are lined up in alphabetical order where we mingled and talked with other teams. Most countries had national badges which we traded as we talked about our various sports. I think this little slice of the entire Games really sums up the beauty of sports.

Here you have over 6,000 highly competitive athletes form different nations, yet our common goals and aspirations unite and bind us in a special way.

Exchanging thoughts and memories with athletes from other sports and countries was such an incredibly powerful experience. Speaking to them definitely reminded me why we sacrifice so many aspects of a “normal” life to be here at this level, living our dreams, and seeing the world through other eyes.

What Comes Next
Now that I’m back in the US, it’s time to re-focus on SMU and what lies ahead. The most challenging obstacle I’m faced with is to not get bogged down by the pressure of Nationals again. Just trying to keep a clear mindset and have a healthy and balanced workout routine is crucial.

For me, it has never been a matter of physicality. Therefore, my focus has to be on keeping my nerves as disciplined as the rest of my body.

My ultimate goal is to reach All-American status in both cross country and track.

After college, I’ll do my best to compete on the professional tour as my eyes are on one big goal – the 2024 Olympics in Paris.