The NCAA Cross Country Championships offers an impressive stage for a young distance runner. As she lined up for last year’s NCAA championship race – the third cross country race of her life – Oregon’s Anne Kesselring took a moment to survey the 254-woman field.
“I had never seen so many people on a line,” Kesselring recalled. “I just looked up at the line and was like, ‘Whoa! What is going on?'”
The Nürnberg, Germany native was one of two freshmen competing for the Ducks at the 2009 NCAAs, the other being wunderkind Jordan Hasay. Unaccustomed to racing with such a large group, Kesselring struggled across the line in 211th place as the Oregon women finished ninth as a team.
“I didn’t race very well there, but if I go back this year, I will be better prepared and I will know what’s coming,” she said.
Kesselring, the reigning Pacific-10 Conference champion at 800 meters on the track, has gradually warmed up to the idea of running cross country, supplementary to track season in the spring.
“In the beginning, I was a little bit skeptical because (races were 6,000 meters in length) and I had never done anything like that before last year,” she said. “But now, it’s different. The thing about cross country is it helps you so much during the track and indoor season. The other aspect is, in cross country the team is so important. You want to push yourself to contribute and try to make a difference for the team. That’s a nice feeling. We’re really close in cross country.”
Her willingness to be a team player in a highly individual sport resonates with her teammates.
“She’s a great teammate. She really pushes us,” senior Alex Kosinski said. “She has a good attitude.”
Kesselring’s fit with the Oregon Ducks has been instrumental in her continued development as a runner and a person.
She started running competitively in the fourth grade for a local club team, through which youth sports are organized (unlike the American system of school-based sports). At 15, Kesselring placed third in the 800m at the German national junior championships, inspiring her to become a serious runner.
Coming out of high school as a four-time German national champion and two-time IAAF Junior World Track & Field Championships qualifier, Kesselring was looking for a U.S. college to continue her career. She scoured the Internet, looking up schools, rankings and running times.
“I don’t think there’s another country that supports athletics like the U.S. does,” Kesselring said, “so I looked into running here in college. I just looked at a bunch of different schools and contacted several coaches.
“In the end, (Oregon assistant coach) Maurica (Powell) made me feel welcome here and I just got the impression that Oregon was going to be a good place for me.”
Powell – currently on maternity leave after the birth of her second child – kept in contact with Kesselring by phone, and managed to sell her on the Ducks without a campus visit. When Kesselring first arrived in Oregon in preparation for the cross country teams’ annual fall camp in Sunriver, it was her first time on U.S. soil, save for a brief trip as a 2-year-old.
“In Sunriver, you don’t see much of American life,” she said. “It’s just the people you get to know. One of the things I noticed here is that people are really open towards you. It’s amazing to me how fast I became friends with everybody. Everyone was making an effort to get to know me, and I feel like that was a big difference. At home, (people are) not unfriendly but more reserved at first. Here it’s like, ‘Oh, you’re part of this. Come in.'”
With such a focused environment, those relationships with teammates formed quickly. As Kesselring’s freshman year began, she had a core group of friends on whom she could rely to explain the mannerisms and customs of American life.
“I think it’s great when (foreign athletes) come here – the Kenyans and the Europeans,” redshirt senior A.J. Acosta said. “The school, however they want to give out their scholarships, that’s their prerogative. I think it’s great that we give out scholarships to foreign (athletes) like (former UO distance runner) Shadrack (Biwott), like Zoe (Buckman), like Anne. Personality-wise, she’s a good addition to the team. A good friend, a good teammate.”
Language was another hurdle gradually overcome. Kesselring is fluent in German, English and French, conversationally fluent in Italian and minoring in Chinese, to go with a Business Administration major. Colloquialisms and expressions would occasionally confuse her, but teammates helped her out.
“She’s really smart,” Kosinski said. “She picked up everything really quick.”
Leaving her family behind has not been easy, but Kesselring is looking forward to Christmas break – her parents, Hartmut and Maria, and younger sister Michaela will join her in the U.S. to celebrate the holidays.
“I’m so close with my family,” Kesselring said. “I’m just so excited to spend Christmas with my family. I’m excited for them to come see my new life.”