Posted on February 6, 2009 by Tia Lalani

A few weeks ago some of the cross-country running athletes were welcomed back to school with an unexpected reward for their hard work & determination.

by Dylan McConnell

A few weeks ago some of the cross-country running athletes were welcomed back to school with an unexpected reward for their hard work and determination. According to Augustana Athletics director Greg Ryan, fourteen “Jimmy Condon Awards” were handed out to fourteen individual runners as part of the province’s Heritage Trust Fund, awards that Ryan claims to be “huge, especially for cross-country running.”

To find out why these awards are especially important to cross-country runners, I went to the source – Dr. Gerhard Lotz, Augustana physics professor and volunteer cross-country running coach. Dr. Lotz explained to me that scholarships have never been awarded to cross-country runners before, likely because until about ten years ago, the running team was “made up mostly of athletes from other sports like hockey, basketball, skiing and volleyball,” who participated in the sport to stay in shape. However, cross-country running is now considered to be a primary sport all on its own (as it should be) and athletes are finally being rewarded for their efforts.

But it has been a long time coming for this group of athletes who, before this past year, have won five consecutive national titles, a remarkable accomplishment. And there was no indication things were going to be any different this year, according to Dr. Lotz, who “did not expect to get the awards this year or next year.”

Philip Eriksson, a member of the running team, was also pleasantly surprised by the award. “I got $1800, the full amount for the Jimmy Condon scholarship [$900 a term]. To be qualified for the full amount you had to be committed fully to the running team, as opposed to just running with the team for fun. The size of this award is quite big, especially if you were not expecting it. It covers 1/3 of my tuition for this year and you can’t really complain about any money that is given to you to take part in an activity that you love.”

So everyone agrees that the scholarship has been a big help and, obviously, any bit of money helps the athletes who receive it. But will these scholarships help the cross-country running program down the road? According to Gerhard Lotz, the “scholarships can have an impact on recruiting, especially when Augustana has to charge its athletes University tuition [because of their affiliation with the U of A] while they compete in the college [ACAC] level.” In the past, Dr. Lotz could rely only on Augustana’s record in competition (which, fortunately, has been a good one) and had to voluntarily visit schools to recruit athletes when he was able. Now that he has some extra money to offer potential runners, he has confidence in Augustana’s ability to attract great athletes for years to come.

Hopefully the running team can continue to harness the winning tradition for at least one more year, as next year’s National Championship will be held right here in Camrose. Dr. Lotz has said that the cross-country circuit here is much more “spectator friendly” than in other places, a fact he hopes will help attract spectators. The run will take place on November 14th.

Congratulations to all the athletes who have received the award. Their hard work and dedication have made them well-deserving recipients.

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