By: Blake Blondeel
The Lancers Cross-Country head coach Gary Malloy will be the first to tell you that he is going to be extremely sad to see this year’s senior students go. The senior class is packed not only with talent, but with character and class.
A prime example of this is London, Ontario native Stefanie Smith. The three year captain holds many accomplishments such as a 1st and 2nd all-star ranking team for both Ontario University Athletics (OUA) and Canadian Interuniversity Sport (CIS) (most recently rebranded in 2016 to USports). Smith also has received individual bronze medals at the OUA and CIS championships and has represented Canada at the International University Sports Federation (FISU) world cross-country championships in Italy. And finally, 2013 Lancers cross-country female rookie of the year and 2015 University of Windsor female athlete of the year.
With a highly decorated career, Smith has established herself as one of the top runners in the nation while displaying a blue-collar work ethic that has helped her improve each day. There may be few who come along that can match Smith’s combination of speed, and athleticism. However, it is safe to say that Lancer coaches will struggle to find the kind of person that Stefanie Smith is, combined with her athletic talent.
“Stef was never brought in as one of our top recruits. It was her tremendous work ethic that accustomed her to the miles of running over the years,” Malloy said. “She’s been fortunate throughout her career to avoid injuries and that speaks to her durability. She leads by example and is a good friend.”
Malloy, a coach of 18 years, realizes that. He is realistic and knows he only gets to work with his runners for three to five years. His attitude is not to lament the loss of great athletes, but to appreciate having them around.
Smith deserves the praise. One does not achieve what she has without putting in time, hitting the books, and with hundreds of kilometres and hours of running.
The fifth-year Human Kinetics student credits her motivation and discipline as the key to her success.
“To be a successful runner, or athlete in general, you have to be extremely driven. I think a lot of people think I’m more or less blessed with running, I agree in a sense. The last five years have exceeded every single expectation I had. My coaches and teammates have been there for me through everything whether it’s running related or not. I can’t thank them enough for everything and I’m so thankful that I ended up here,” the senior runner commented.
Although Smith has put the time into becoming an elite runner, her career donning the Blue and Gold has flown by. It seems like only yesterday that the wide-eyed freshman was put into her first race.
“I remember as we (female cross-country) went out into the huddle for the first time, the whole men’s team came with us and cheered. It was special and just eye-opening. As soon as our race was done, we all hurried to send the guys off for their race.” Smith reminisced. “Over the last few years I’ve seen this program go through a lot of changes, but all the same core traditions and culture have remained the same, I think that has to do with the culture that Dennis (Fairall) laid out when he was here.”
It was the legendary Dennis Fairall who had recruited Smith and fellow co-captain and fifth-year Mississauga, Ontario native Joseph Kagumba, who has been with Smith throughout their entire journey together.
“Stef always finds a way to lighten the mood and console you when she notices things aren’t alright,” Kagumba said. “Knowing where she began five years ago and to see her now, I am very proud of her accomplishments. I draw inspiration from her hard work and resilience.”
One of the major assets of having both Kagumba and Smith around at this point in their careers is their ability to teach the underclassmen. Not the most boisterous person, Smith is a runner who leads by examples and demonstrates the right way to carry oneself as a student-athlete.
After her five years, she has learned bravery and fearlessness from her coach, which Stef now instils in her team. She exemplifies these characteristics and if her name so happens to come up in the conversation of one of the great Lancer runners, she hopes it isn’t about her accomplishments, but someone saying, “she always ran really tough.”
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