Illini runner Blazek upping her contributions to team this season

By Mike Gasick

The heavy breathing, light-headedness and cramping that may affect runners during a cross-country race does not seem entirely appealing.

For about 20 excruciating minutes, runners endure and try to combat these effects to cross the finish line in good standing and impressive time. So, what makes these athletes want to continue participating in a sport — running — that is famously used as punishment in other sports?

For Illini women’s cross country sophomore Audrey Blazek, the passion she has for the sport and her team makes her continue to lace up her spikes.

“I love being around girls who share the same passion for the sport as I do,” Blazek said. “They’re some of my best friends.”

Blazek wasn’t all about running at an early age. She first started running in junior high to get some physical activity and a way to meet new people. Not thinking much about it, she stuck with it. She continued her running career at Benet Academy in Lisle, Illinois, where she excelled in races while continuing to make new friends and enjoy her time on the team.

She set the course record at the Royal Cadet Invite in 2011, posting an 18 minute, 53.4 seconds in the 3.01 mile race — a time that no runner since has surpassed.

After making visits to Illinois, Notre Dame, Wisconsin-Madison and Marquette, Blazek had little doubt in her mind that the next stage of her life would be in Urbana-Champaign.

“I just felt way more comfortable with this team than any others,” Blazek said. “Coming to practice here is the best part of the day for me.”

Blazek said one of her favorite memories of her Illini career came early this season on the first day of practice. The upperclassmen decided to wear running skirts to impress the freshmen on their first day. Appreciating how head coach Scott Jones allowed the joke to happen, Blazek feels the moment had a calming effect on the team and hopes that mood will carry on for the rest of the season.

Motivated to stay on the starting roster this year, Blazek just wants to run. Not having participated in a race last year, she is determined to compete with the other top Illini runners in hopes of setting a personal record.

The sophomore is focused on helping the team stay in the top six in the Big Ten and compete with the top-tier teams of the conference.

Jones said he has confidence in Blazek to go out every day and work hard to be a successful runner. Blazek hopes for a bright future with this team so she can continue to participate in the sport she most enjoys.

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