A former runner with the Ontario High School cross country program, Anna Hairston is making strides at Bluffton University, where she now holds the school cross country record with the time 19:36.
It was during her senior year in high school that Hairston began running cross country. Although a novice to the program, Hairston had played soccer from preschool up to her junior year and participated in basketball, as well.
“My friend and I were talking one day, and she knew I enjoyed running, and so she said that I should go out for the team with her,” stated Hairston.
Not fully convinced whether she would enjoy it or not, Hairston soon found a new niche.
“It seemed like with every meet I dropped a little bit more time. It was cool to see where I started and finished. By the end of the season, I dropped about three minutes from my time,” she said.
“Anna was our main contributor last year and number one runner all year long, stated Ontario’s head cross country coach Phil Giffin. He continued, “She’s a great girl, with a great attitude, a leader on the field, and she was inspiration to our team as she led by example.”
The first year runner was voted Most Valuable Player and earned a personal best time of 21:14.
Hairston just missed qualifying to the Regional meet, crossing the finish line at the District competition in eighteenth place—two places from advancing.
Fast forward to 2013, Hairston is entering her freshman year at Bluffton University to pursue a double major in art and social work.
Hairston stated that she didn’t initially intend to continue with cross country while at college, as she had hoped to play basketball at the university.
She explained that she received a letter from Bluffton’s cross country coach, Karen Brandt, who asked Hairston if she would be interested in running on the team. “I didn’t really know what to do because I wanted to play basketball and didn’t think I’d be able to do both sports since the seasons run into each other,” said Hairston.
Coach Brandt stated that fortunately she and the basketball coach were able to compromise, allowing Hairston to participate in both sports.
“We don’t generally get that combination of basketball and cross country here,” said Brandt. “However, I was so grateful towards the basketball coach that we were able to work something out.”
In only the second meet of the season, Hairston finished the 5K at 19:37, shattering the 14-year-old school record by 25 seconds. She was the highest-placing non-scholarship athlete on the women's side, crossing the finish line in fortieth place among 148 total runners at the Queen City Invitational in Cincinnati.
Her record-breaking performance helped name her the Heartland Conference Female Athlete of the Week.
One week later, Hairston broke her record by one second, completing the race in seventy-third place of 316 runners at the Calvin Regional Preview.
Now that she’s running sub 20 minutes, Coach Giffin is thrilled by her progress. “She was new to the team last year, but she picked the sport up beautifully,” he commented.
As she continues with her running career, he hopes she continues to enjoy running and have that as something she can enjoy for a lifetime, he said.
“It’s been really hard—a lot more challenging than high school,” said the record holder. “We have two-a-days every day, and it can be stressful at times, but it’s been great because it pushes me.”
Her goal for the season is to break 19 minutes in the 5K and obtain the 6K school record, which currently stands at 23:11.
“What Anna has done with only one year of experience is nothing short of amazing,” said Coach Brandt. “She has broken the collegiate 5K record, and that’s pretty big stuff for a woman who was running just last year at 21 minutes.”
Brandt continued, “She’s only scratching the surface as she continues to train and adjust to the college racing experience.”