Molly Seidel has improved light years as a distance runner from her debut as a seventh grader for the St. Joan of Arc Catholic Church track team in Nashotah, Wis.
She told MaxPreps, "I had an SAT test that morning and I was really nervous. We drove to the school where they had a big indoor track. I got so nervous that I ran into the bathroom and threw up. We got in the car and drove home. I still do get nervous, but not like the gut-wrenching terror of that first meet."
Today, the 5-foot-4 senior from University Lake (Hartland, Wis.)
is the reigning Gatorade National Female Cross Country Runner of the Year and the National Foot Locker Champion. She also is a National Merit Scholar and a perfect 4.0 student headed to the University of Notre Dame after turning down the likes of Stanford, Georgetown, Duke and Harvard.
As a freshman, she reached a major crossroad. She could have enrolled at nearby perennial state powerhouse Arrowhead (Hartland, Wis.) or stayed at her tiny private school (78 students in grades 9-12) which she had attended since kindergarten.
The deal breaker was a varsity track program - University Lake did not have one.
Enter Brian Borkowski, who had coached her on the church track team. He was asked to start a varsity track program and the rest is history.
The Lakers had fielded a cross country team rather sporadically due to the small enrollment. During Seidel's freshman debut their roster ballooned to five runners. She had been a talented field hockey player, was an excellent snow skier and had dabbled in soccer, but she also had shown flashes of being a fine runner, too.
Her mother, Anne Seidel, recalled, "She was just so little in grade school, but had this beautiful gait. She'd run with her father and all of a sudden she'd just run away from him and beat him home."
Still, she confessed, "Never in my wildest dream did I think Molly would become a runner."
Veteran cross country coach Mike Dolan had been watching her since she was in his fifth grade gym class. He had seen her consistently beat the boys and always with a big smile on her face. Two races early in her freshman year convinced him she had a great future.
On a tough course in the rain and mud, she placed first in a field of 15 schools, which included the Division 3 defending state champion. And she ran part of the race with her shoe untied. Soon afterwards she placed second in a 32-team field on an even more difficult course.
She climaxed her freshman season by winning the Division 3 state championship in a record 14:37.
"That was just unbelievable," she said. "I had no idea I'd win. That was kind of a huge surprise."A tiny school starts from scratch with track
University Lake's first track team consisted of just one member - Molly. It wasn't until her junior year that any other girls came out.
Prior to the state meet, she admitted, "I was really running scared, because I had won cross country and people expected a lot."
No worries, because she won Division 3 state titles in the 1600-meter run (5:02) and the 3200-meter run (a Division 3-record 10:49). Her 20 points enabled the team to place 10th in the state.
During her sophomore cross country campaign, Seidel showed a maturity far beyond her years after winning a big race at the University of Wisconsin-Parkside and being disqualified by a borderline rules infraction.
Dolan explained, "She raised her arms (to help relax after the race) and they saw that her shorts were rolled up. They were too big (so she had to roll them up). The rule states that the uniform must be worn in a way that it was manufactured. She had just run the third-fastest time in the history of the course.
"There was not a tear - not a word. She just said, 'Coach, I guess I broke a rule.' A freshman told her to tell them (the officials) that she had just rolled up her shorts after the finish line. She said she wouldn't do that because it would be dishonest. She is such a class act that many referees contacted the state and said it was the most ridiculous call. They changed that rule in two weeks and that further endeared her in the hearts of running families in Wisconsin."
She not only repeated as Division 3 state champion, but broke her own record with a time of 10:39 - even though it was 25 degrees and snowing. She somewhat psyched out her opposition by refusing to wear a hat or gloves.
That spring she also repeated as state champ in the 1600 (5:02) and broke her own record in the 3200 with a 10:39 clocking.
Seidel was upset that she didn't break five minutes in the 1600, so she entered the Nike Distance Gala in Lisle, Ill., and won it in 4:51.
She really came into her own as a junior, becoming the first girl in Wisconsin history to break 14 minutes in cross country. She won her third consecutive Division 3 state title in 13:44, which obviously beat everyone in the larger Division 1 and 2 races, too. If there ever was a stigma attached to her competition, it was demolished on that day.
Competing in the Foot Locker Regional probably eclipsed her first-meet fiasco as a seventh grader for the worst day of her life.
The week before the race she had received an undiagnosed staph infection in her right leg while helping to celebrate her grandmother's 80th birthday in Hawaii. She was unable to practice that week due to the swelling, describing her leg as a "stuffed sausage." .
She related, "I decided to run up the first hill and drop out. But I couldn't drop out. I'd just go two miles, but then I got that far and I might as well finish. It was the only time I collapsed after the race. My leg gave out. My body kind of went into shock. It was a really, really bad experience. I shouldn't have run. It was the most painful race I've ever run."
Adding to her great pain and frustration, she placed 11th, missing a national qualifying position by a mere five seconds.
She spent six weeks on crutches and admits, "I lost my confidence in doctors for awhile" until the source was discovered and she got well.
Her junior track season brought two more Division 3 records, winning the 1600 in 4:51 and the 3200 in 10:33.15. That summer she competed for the first time in the New Balance Nationals at Greensboro, N.C., and placed third in the 1600 with a time of 4:46. Senior season has been one for the ages
During a talent-laden cross country meet at Wisconsin Lutheran, Seidel again showed why Dolan calls her "a rare, rare breed."
She got lost on the course and had to back-track - running about an extra quarter of a mile - and still won the race against strong competition. Still, it was a frustrating day because she had hoped to break 13 minutes - the equivalent of someone running a four-minute mile. She even had "12:59.7" written on her hand.
Dolan was more nervous than Molly the day of the state finals. She is a big environmentalist and often gets razzed for picking up trash every time she runs. Just minutes away from running for the state title she was picking up an empty water bottle, then a granola wrapper and disposing of them.
But that still didn't keep her from winning her fourth consecutive Division 3 state title in an all-class, state-record time of 13:39.59. The only other girl in Wisconsin history to win four state cross country titles is Olympian Suzy Favor-Hamilton.
"It's always been a huge honor when people compare me to her," she said of Favor-Hamilton.
Next came the Foot Locker Midwest Regional, and she wasn't messing around this time. She won the 5K race in 17:08.
At the Foot Locker Nationals in San Diego, Calif., she realized, "I've got to trust my training. I was really nervous, because everybody out there was a stud. It wasn't the best race I ever had. I got totally stuck in the back, locked in the pack. I was so far behind and had to catch up. I just had to hammer the last half mile."
After winning in 17:22, by just two seconds over junior Erin Finn of West Bloomfield (Mich.)
she said, "It was the most incredible thing. I was really tired. They plopped me down in the sun and started interviewing me."
Borkowski, often her running partner, had watched the historic race on a laptop computer hooked up to speakers.
He noted, "The national championship was really cool, super exciting. It was a great feeling for our community. Molly told me later, 'I could hear my coach yelling 'dig deeper, dig deeper.' She always said that she wanted our community (and the Midwest in general) to be put on the (national) map."
Seidel conceded that having Borkowski's words racing through her mind "was the only thing that kept me going on the last mile. I was so tired. Brian is a mixture of father figure and a very good friend and role model. He really helped me fall in love with running."Seidel goes global, competing in Scotland
Still, she had one more cross country opportunity as a high school athlete. She was invited to the Bupa Great Edinburgh International Challenge in Scotland where she placed third (15:16) in the 4K and was the first USA high school finisher.
"It was just amazing," she said of the very different conditions. "It was the muddiest race I ever ran. There was log jumping and stream jumping. It was like running through sand. That mud would just suck you in."
Her first national indoor track meet - the Brooks PR Invitational in Seattle, Wash. - was a major success as she won the 3200 in a meet-record 10:09. It ended up being the fastest indoor time in the nation.
This spring she was stunned by the Gatorade national cross country award.
"That was the most amazing thing," she said. "I was so shocked. I really didn't see that coming. It was such a high point and I'm still in shock."
Borkowski called the award "pretty cool. What's so neat about it is that Molly is such a humble girl. She is a guest speaker in middle school (discussing the dangers of drugs and alcohol) and they all go crazy and want her autograph.."
Already reaching legendary status, Seidel hopes to break 4:40 in the 1600 and PR in the 3200. She already has six state track titles and two more would beat Suzy Favor-Hamilton's record of seven.
University Lake has changed its graduation date this year so it won't conflict with the state track meet.
"A lot of us want to watch her run," Dolan pointed out. "A lot of our teachers were stellar runners."
This summer she also will get the thrill of walking the famous Red Carpet as a candidate for the National ESPY Award in Los Angeles, Calif. She will be celebrating her 18th birthday that week.
Then she plans to study biology, pre-med or sports medicine in the fall at Notre Dame.
Dolan calls her a true "Renaissance Woman."
A cerebral teenager, Seidel spends car and bus trips reading Hamlet or historical fiction instead of plugging in earphones and listening to music.
We haven't even mentioned her award-winning photography or the fact that she was part of her school's state ski championship team. She learned to downhill ski at age three and also once did tap dancing.
Borkowski predicts that the young phenom will be running in the Olympics by 2024.
"That's like an absolute dream for me," Seidel said. "I need to get through college and I would love to do it professionally."
Dolan sees only great things in the future.
He praises, "She has a picture-perfect stride and her arm-carry is poetry. She's got a stop watch inside of her (to run) a perfect pace. She has a running economy - she looks the same at the end as the start of a race. She is buff, does crunches and all kinds of core exercise stuff. She's very good at cross training. She is a very healthy eater. One of her biggest assets is that she knows everything about her toughest competitor inside and out. She is her toughest competitor - herself and the clock."
In addition, he points out that she is equally effective in scorching heat, below-zero weather and even running up gigantic hills. She truly is a runner for all seasons.
Hinting that Seidel might be best in an event that she rarely tries, Dolan said, "She has a fifth gear unlike you've seen in any kid and leaves runners in the dust. In the national championships she found that fifth gear. At the college level she has the ability to be a heck of a half-miler (800 meters)..
"At the college level, she's going to do very well, because she's going to continue to run for the sheer love of running. She has the ability to do anything from the half-mile to the 6K. If anybody deserves (the Olympics), she has the heart, character, drive and desire."