A UIC Connection in Chicago's Top Athlete Election
Nov. 2, 2012
CHICAGO - The 2012 election season will decide more than just the President of the United States, it will also proclaim Chicago's top male and female athletes sponsored by Chicago Athlete Magazine and Clif Bar. Included in this year's field of decorated candidates are three extraordinary women - all with ties to UIC. Jennifer (Goebel) Goldstein and Kristen Heckert are former Flames' student-athletes and Karrie Hamstra-Wright is a professor in the school's Kinesiology and Nutrition department.
Instead of pounding the campaign trail for undecided votes, the trio of talented marathoners spend their free time on running trails, participating in an activity that has helped shape their lives. They have all recently posted personal-best times in the grueling 26.2-mile race and appear to be at the top of their game.
Interestingly enough, none of the runners have ever crossed paths, despite of the UIC link. Flames head cross country and track and field coach Jim Knoedel knows all three women and easily pinpoints their uniting characteristics.
"It's the passion they have for running," said Knoedel. "It's not something they do casually on the sideline, but something they go after very aggressively and what you see is the result. They are all certainly talented, but talent without hard work will get you nowhere and that's the trait they share is hard work."
"I want to take it as far as I can," said Heckert. "My goal is to be the best runner I can be and enjoy it along the way."
Heckert currently teaches math at Plainfield South High School and serves as the assistant boys cross country and track and field coach. Like most elite long-distance runners, she struggles to find that healthy balance between training, work and her personal life. She expressed a sense of vindication in her nomination for Chicago's Top Female Athlete.
"It's nice to be recognized for doing something that you sacrifice so much for," said Heckert. "I don't seem as crazy when other people appreciate what I do."
Heckert graduated from UIC in the spring of 2010 and competed three seasons for Flames cross country and track and field teams.
"I loved being a student-athlete at UIC," said Heckert. "Running helped me stay focused and my major prepared me for my current job."
Perhaps UIC also prepared her for a shot at the 2016 USA Olympic Trials.
The second candidate, (Karrie) Hamstra-Wright, currently serves as the Clinical Assistant Professor of UIC Kinesiology. She recently recorded a career-best time of 2:57.58 at the 2012 Kenosha Marathon, placing first among all female participants. Hamstra-Wright is in a unique position to utilize the knowledge of colleagues in her own department.
"It's nice to have access to exercise physiologists and sports psychologists and ask them for tips," said Hamstra-Wright.
The Lansing, Ill., native was a multi-sport athlete at Olivet Nazarene University and dabbled in road racing while she was earning her Master's degree at UIC. In 2001, she ran her first marathon just looking to finish, but ended up qualifying for the historic Boston race.
"I didn't even know what that meant because I was so new to the sport," said Hamstra-Wright.
Even with early success, she considers 2009 her introduction into competitive running after overcoming a series of health issues and injuries that plagued her for several years.
"I just wasn't taking care of myself," said Hamstra-Wright. "But I finally got my act together and I feel like God gave me running back, so I have a new passion and love for it. Through all of that, it's a lot deeper than just a race."
Looking deep is something that Hamstra-Wright does on a daily basis in her new collaboration with Flames Athletics. The professor has specifically focused on runners and their body mechanics using a 3D motion capturing system and then tracks their injuries throughout the season. Coaches and athletes are given a full report at season's end indicating imbalances in their running form and tips on how to prevent injury.
"The partnership with athletics has been really important and has a lot of potential moving forward," said Hamstra-Wright.
Entering her ninth year overall at UIC, Hamstra-Wright primarily works with undergraduate students and some involvement at the graduate level.
"I love our students," said Hamstra-Wright. "Sometimes I feel like I have 600 kids. They all want to be here and understand the importance of health care."
(Jennifer) Goldstein, the final UIC candidate for Chicago's Female Athlete of the Year, is also involved in health care as a sports massage therapist. She's been in the industry for seven years and enjoys working with other athletes.
The Lombard, Ill., native is one of UIC's most successful athletes over the last decade and in 2009 was inducted into the Athletics Hall of Fame. She still holds the track program's outdoor records in the 5,000 and 10,000 meters with times of 17:27.70 and 35:57.18, respectively.
"UIC was the right place to be," said Goldstein. "It's where I needed to be. Running has had a great impact on my life and it kept me healthy and centered."
Impact may be a slight understatement given the story behind how Goldstein met her husband Adam. She had flown to Arizona to watch some friends run a race, and when boarding the flight to come home there was a woman sitting in her assigned seat. The flight attended quickly found her an open seat and plopped Goldstein right next to her future hubby, who actually ran the race she spectated. The two struck up a conversation, and the rest is history.
"It was pretty awesome because we almost didn't go on that trip," said Goldstein. "We had each decided to go just a few days beforehand."
Adam stuck with the running theme and proposed to Goldstein after they completed the 2011 Chicago Marathon. At the 2012 edition of the Windy City race, Goldstein ran a lifetime best of 2:51.00, placing 21st among all women runners.
Racing has taken Goldstein to 31 different states with the ultimate goal of reaching the 50 mark someday.
"I plan on running in Mississippi, Oregon and Wyoming next," said Goldstein. "And I'm actually going to do the Lake Tahoe IronMan next September."
Three women. Three amazing stories. All with a UIC connection and a legitimate case for Chicago's Top Female Athlete.
Voting has already begun on www.mychicagoathlete.com and will run through Jan. 7. The winner will be announced and featured in the March edition of Chicago Athlete Magazine.
So when you're headed into the ballot box this election season, Flames fans will have the unique luxury of three candidates instead of two.