For Illini cross-country’s Bobart, running opens doors


Jovanie De La Cruz | The Daily I

Valerie Bobart(252) keeping her cool at the Illini Challenge 2015 at the Arboretum on September 4.

By Mike Gasick

Whether it be a new food item, school club or sport, college students have been accustomed to hearing the phrase, “It’s always good to try new things,” from parents, teachers and friends.

For Illinois women’s cross-country junior Valerie Bobart, running opened up a wealth of opportunities and success well before she made it to college.

Bobart first participated in cross-country in eighth grade. Bobart’s sister Cassie, who’s a year older than Valerie, ran cross-country in high school and told her younger sister to give running a try.

Valerie fell in love with the sport and started building up stamina to someday become a successful cross-country runner.

As a freshman at Glenbrook North High School, Valerie joined the cross-country team and racked up plenty of accomplishments. It did not take long for Bobart to convince her teammates and coaches that she was serious about the sport; she, along with her best friend, qualified for the State meet her freshman year.

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“I remember we were both so shocked and excited after Sectionals,” Valerie said. “It was an amazing experience that I also got to share with my teammates.”

She was just getting started.

Valerie went on to qualify for State in her sophomore, junior and senior year — the first time in Glenbrook North history that has ever been accomplished. The high school awarded her “Athlete of the Year” for her consistent, successful career with the Spartans.

“I think it was a combination of two things: hard work and natural talent,” Glenbrook North women’s cross-country head coach Bob LeBlanc said. “She was determined to get better every year.”

LeBlanc noted that Valerie was the type of runner who was determined to run at least 500 miles in the offseason.

According to Valerie, selecting Illinois to continue her cross-country career was the right choice. She also pointed to how strong of a reputation Illinois has in her current major: chemical engineering, which made the decision even easier. Now entering her third year at the school, Valerie has enjoyed the close-knit group of Illini runners.

“I love the girls on the team,” she said. “I enjoy being on a competitive team that has continued to work hard every day.”

Valerie’s best college races have included running a 22 minutes 28 seconds at last year’s Bradley Invite 6K, as well as breaking 19 minutes for a 5K at last year’s Illini Open — she ran it in 18:48.

“There is a reason why (Valerie) has experienced success in college and that’s because (she) has a strong work ethic.” head coach Scott Jones said.

Having previous triumphs with the sport both in high school and in college, Valerie is looking to continue these successes for the Illini in races this season.

“I want to stay with the strong pack of runners we have,” Valerie said. “We would like to stay in the top half of the Big Ten.”

Valerie is used to trying new things, and a team finish in the top half of the Big Ten might be next — the Illini haven’t finished in the top tier of the conference since 2009.

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