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Walk-on runner becomes track national champion in second lap at UVic

Jennifer Erickson the first Vikes runner to win U SPORTS gold medal since 2016
Vikes track runner Jennifer Erickson stands atop the podium after her U SPORTS 3,000m win. (Courtesy of Electric Umbrella/Huskie Athletics)

A University of Victoria track and field athlete was the first to cross the finish line at this month’s nationals after an unexpected path to being a Canadian champion.

Jennifer Erickson won the U SPORTS 3,000m with a time of 9:37.02, making her the first Vikes runner to win a gold medal since 2016. She also placed sixth in the 1,500m race at the March 9-11 meet.

Just months before last year’s nationals, the Vikes runner was diagnosed with Graves disease, an autoimmune disorder that causes an overactive thyroid accompanied by chronic fatigue, rapid and irregular heartbeat, anxiety, weakness and trouble sleeping.

She was grateful for the opportunity to compete at the highest level in university sports, but knew she wasn’t at her best at the 2022 finals, according to a news release.

“I circled the calendar for U SPORTS 2023. From that race on, I had a target, and with a full year of managing my Graves and training healthy, my goal was to improve on my 2022 finish,” she said in the release.

UVic says Erickson shattered her expectations for the 2023 season after hoping for a mid-pack finish in the 3,000m.

She completed a bachelor’s degree in biology during her first stint at UVic from 2013 to 2017. Erickson had competed in track during high school and started running with a Victoria-based endurance club before the pandemic shuttered an Ironman race she was training for in 2020.

It was around then when Erickson had returned to UVic for another degree and her coach recommended she try out for the Vikes cross country and track team – which she then made as a walk-on.

“I always wished I had competed at the varsity level during my first degree and wondered what it would be like to have the resources of a varsity program and be part of a team, so it’s been cool to get the opportunity,” the now fourth-year kinesiology student said.

Erickson’s years of endurance running made her the fastest middle-distance runner on the Vikes team.

“The reason Jenn won U SPORTS is because she is stronger than anyone else, and that comes from her endurance background. Everyone thinks it’s her kick at the end, but it’s because her aerobic capacity is so strong,” said Vikes head coach Hilary Stellingwerff. “Jenn gets this look in her eyes, she knows how to hurt and she knows how to pick and choose her moments.”

After sticking with the lead pack for most of the 3,000m final, it was the last 200m where she made her move and jumped ahead of the field. UVic says the walk-on turned U SPORTS gold medalist has left her mark on the school’s history books and that she hopes to pursue physiotherapy and a career in health care after graduating.

READ: UVic women’s curling captures nationals ticket after Canada West championships win


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About the Author: Saanich News Staff

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