A group of Southeast Missouri State University track and cross country alumni proved they are still in top form with both a men’s and women’s team winning their respective divisions over the weekend at the River2River (R2R) Run in southern Illinois.
“It was great to catch up and relive the glory days because I believe all of us were on an OVC (Ohio Valley Conference) championship team at some point,” said Kaci Heins ’04 ’07, a Harrisburg, Illinois, native, now living in the Houston, Texas, area.
The men’s and women’s teams each ran 80 miles, with each person running three legs throughout the day of varying distances – 2.5 to four miles — and difficulty levels. The race took place on the “back roads of southern Illinois,” Heins said, with the race beginning at Wolf Lake and ending at Golconda.
“It’s such a beautiful course,” Heins said.
About 250 teams participated.
“We didn’t go into this race planning on winning,” she said. “We just went into this to have fun with our teammates just like we did back in the day. That’s what makes this race so special. Everyone is in it together.
“All the legs had hills, some harder than others, but we all knew what we were going through, so we lifted each other up and supported each other just like we did on the team,” Heins said. “We shared lots of stories about the good ‘ole days, our jobs and families.”
The women’s race lasted nine hours and 40 minutes. The men finished in seven hours and 32 minutes.
“We would drop off a runner, cheer at their exchange, pile into the minivan, cheer for them on the drive and then do it all over again about every 20 minutes or so,” she said.
About halfway through the race, the group noticed they were running very competitively.
“Every girl left all they had out on the beautiful back roads of southern Illinois,” she said of the women’s team. “It couldn’t have been a more beautiful day.”
With two legs left to run, other competitors in the women’s division began making up ground, and the Southeast alumnae began wondering if they could pull off a victory.
“Juli and Lauren ran super well their last legs even though we were all tired by the time we ran for the third time that day,” she said. “We all waited in anticipation at the corner where the church was in Golconda to see who would come around the best first and ultimately win the race. We all started screaming as Lauren McNamara turned the corner and the church bell started ringing. Once she got to the church, we all got to run together and cross the finish line as a team once again.”
With the Southeast men winning their division as well, “it was a great day for all,” Heins said, and one the former Southeast athletes will not soon forget.
“It was so great to spend time with our teammates who are at the core of our friends,” Heins said. “For one day, we were SEMO track athletes again.”
After the competition, the former athletes went their separate ways “back into the real world,” as Heins described it. “But we left as champs once more.”
*Heins was a member of the women’s track and cross country teams at Southeast, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in elementary education with an emphasis in science in 2004 and a Master of Arts in secondary education with an emphasis in technology in 2007. She is now education manager with the Space Center Houston, the Official Visitor Center for the NASA Johnson Space Center and teacher liaison for The Space Foundation.