Remember in the movie “Forrest Gump” when Forrest decides to go for a run one day and ends up running back and forth across the country for several years? He didn’t do it for “any particular reason,” as he said, but just because he felt like running.
Katie Dunn wouldn’t mind having that feeling when she gets older.
“I want to continue running even if I’m not competing,” Dunn said, “I want to wake up in the morning and run.”
Dunn, an 18-year-old freshman out of Saugus High School, is the Lady Vaquero’s newest cross country sensation, a compliment to the men’s side, where 20-year-old sophomore Nathan Sellers excels in cross country.
Both Sellers and Dunn have a love affair with running, even if each approach the craft in different ways.
On this day, Dunn, a tall blonde who is battling a cold (complete with a raspy voice), is sporting a new battle scar, a long cut on her right forearm from a fall while training earlier in the week. Dunn has taken other spills in practice before, but she seems to live by the motto “no pain, no gain.”
“My high school coach pushed me so hard where if I’m hurting or injured he would tell me to run another mile and that just built my pain threshold,” she said.
That’s Dunn in a nutshell, competitive and persevering. “I don’t like missing workouts and not finishing workouts, because that just means in a race I’m going to have that mentality.”
A strong image is something Dunn portrayed at Saugus, where her team went undefeated in two years under her leadership as team captain.
“In a paper they called the rest of my team my little ducklings just because I watched over them. They would follow me wherever I went.”
Even though she’s only a freshman, Dunn has taken on a similar role at Glendale. Coach Eddie Lopez sees her as a leader. “She’s very dedicated,” said Lopez. “She communicates well [with her team]. She’s going to be a contender for the state individual award. She’s the best of the best in community college cross country.”
For Dunn, it’s not necessarily about individual accolades. “I know there’s competition. I’m not coming here thinking I’m the best. I just have to keep training harder.”
Dunn stresses the importance of a family atmosphere, something she had at Saugus. “I just know for myself that I’d like to get [our team] closer together and work harder,” she said.
To hear Dunn describe her running style, one might think cross country may not be the ideal sport for her.
“I have this weird form, like a propeller because I’m pigeon toed and knock-kneed,” she said, “and my left arm doesn’t move. My leg won’t ever change, cause it really does go in. It’s called an exorcist foot. It goes in that much.”
Whatever Dunn does, it seems to work. “I’m told I run in a zen like form, where I’m just so concentrated and out there. I’m really in love with running. It relieves stress.”
Stress is something Nathan Sellers faced his first year out of high school. After graduating from Crescenta Valley High in 2006, he went to Cal Poly San Luis Obispo as the school’s top recruit. He describes his time there as one of full of frustration.
“There was too much partying there,” he said with a bit of disgust. “It didn’t help me with school. It didn’t help me with running.”
That can happen at any college, but Sellers’ experience with the team was also negative. “People were waiting for me to get injured so I wouldn’t be competition for them.”
Sellers also saw a change in his fitness and attitude that he didn’t like. “I was getting fatter, and getting lazier, and I was getting antisocial becauseI didn’t want to talk to [my teammates].”
When Sellers decided to leave San Luis Obispo and return to the Glendale area earlier this year his coach at Crescenta Valley, Mark Evans, suggested he attend GCC before moving on to a four-year school.
So far, everything is working out. “Here, people don’t take it quite as seriously, so they’re more supportive, the whole team, guys and girls. The GCC trainers, they’re great. It’s a nicer atmosphere, you go in the training room and it doesn’t matter if the athletes are from basketball or football, everyone’s getting along.”
Lopez is happy to have Sellers on his team. “Nathan’s our captain. He’s a very talented young man. He is very team oriented.”
Lopez knows that Sellers struggled in his time in San Luis Obispo, and has sought to make things better for him at Glendale. “My main thing here was to make it healthy and fun,” said Lopez.
“I had so much fun in high school, and then I went to San Luis Obispo, and it was kind of like all the fun was taken out of it,” said Sellers. But he decided to give it one more shot, and when he arrived at Glendale, “the first day of practice I had fun with the team, and it was the first time [that had happened] in nearly two years.”
Both Dunn and Sellers give credit to Lopez’s coaching style. “He’s really tough on you. He’s not going to mess around. But he cares,” said Dunn.
Sellers praises Lopez’s ability to develop runners to reach their potential. “I feel like he cares a bit more than a coach at [a DivisionI] school.”
As team captain, Sellers has to care a little more about his team as well, making sure they represent the school and themselves in the right way, but he’s up for the challenge. “I’ve done it before, so I figured why not again?” He said.
Soft spoken and unassuming, Sellers fits the image of the laid back runner perfectly, with his messy brown hair bouncing up and down with every stride he takes. He doesn’t march to the beat of his own drum, but rather runs to the song of choice in his head.
Sellers will go to bed the night before a race with a specific song looped on his headphones so it will be stuck in his head the next day while he runs. “It helps me keep a rhythm, a tempo,” he said. “It keeps my mind off of the pain in my legs.”
Oh, that’s right, the pain.
It’s enough to make the average person get a side cramp just thinking about it, the Glendale cross country team running 12 to 16 miles some days, and 6 to 10 miles on a “recovery days.”
“It’s a lot of mileage,” said Dunn in the understatement of the year.
But while Dunn may love to run for the sake of running, Sellers doesn’t share her point of view. “I’m not going to lie,” he said. “It’s painful. I go home everyday and my legs hurt. It hurts to stand up more than five minutes.”
What keeps Sellers going then? “The people,” he said with conviction. “If I’m having fun with the people around me, suddenly it’s not so bad anymore.”
Both Sellers and Dunn plan on running for major schools after Glendale, and both have interests in coaching as a possible career choice, although Sellers also expresses a desire to write for a sitcom one day.
For now, neither are looking too far into the future. The biggest immediate concern for Dunn may be trying to have a cell phone again. “My cell phone bill is too high. It can’t be paid for at the moment,” she said. Dunn is also currently without a car, making her an anomaly for a teenage girl.
For Sellers, he has found comfort here at Glendale, where the stress of last season seems to be as far behind him as an opponent in a race.
A couple of weeks ago, the cross country team was running in the park and happened to catch the baseball team running at the same time. As Sellers passed the baseball team, he overheard one of the players say, “man, they make it look so easy.”
“That made me feel so good,” he said with a huge smile.