For a previous homeschooler who ran as a hobby, competing in track at collegiate level was a big step for Abby Stevens, a freshman from Nebraska.
Stevens began her athletic career as a gymnast and ran only during her off-season, until she was inspired by her sister, who ran track for Northwestern.
“College track looked awfully fun after watching my sister compete,” Stevens said. “Watching my sister, Elizabeth, always made me want to excel at track, and I so enjoyed being outside in the fresh spring air.”
However, she was not allowed to participate in sports at the high school in her town because she was homeschooled.
Her only official track experience before this year came from junior high track and from competing at two meets as an unattached runner. One meet came during her sophomore year of high school and the other her senior year.
Now she is a sprinter and does the heptathalon for the NW track team. Getting here took some work and courage.
“I was quite nervous for the first meet, especially for the hurdles, since I didn’t know what to expect,” Stevens said.
At the beginning of the season, Stevens’ goal was to just make it through her races. But throughout the indoor and outdoor seasons, she said God has allowed her to progress in skill and confidence.
She qualified for the GPAC indoor conference meet in the open 55m hurdles and the heptathalon and is hoping to achieve similar goals in the outdoor season.
Stevens views having a lack of track experience before college as a mixed blessing. She said one of the benefits of not participating in high school track was not picking up bad habits in her hurdle and running form. However, Stevens added that a little more experience probably wouldn’t have hurt.
Stevens has a teammate who was also homeschooled in high school before coming to college. Sophomore Sarah Wittenberg participated in track and cross-country in her high school as a dual-enrolled student. A dual-enrolled student participates in sports and various classes without the commitment of a full day.
For Wittenberg, the transition from homeschooler to athlete took place in high school instead of college.
“I had a really positive experience over the four years (in high school),”Wittenberg said. “The first couple weeks as a freshman I didn’t know anyone, but I never felt unwelcome and always felt like I was a part of the family.”
Wittenberg said being a homeschooler was an asset for her running and that one of the advantages she had was more training time. While others were in school Wittenberg was running extra miles and weightlifting.
For both athletes college has made for a much more rigorous schedule than they were previously used to.
“In college you have that two-hour time frame when you can run and train, and you have to study the rest of the time,” Wittenberg said.
Despite their busier schedules, both athletes said they appreciate the faith that NW incorporates into its track and field program. Faith has been a major part of both women’s’ experiences in collegiate track and has helped them grow stronger both physically and spiritually.
“I think track is a wonderful way we are able to use our gifts to glorify God,” Stevens said. “Since coming to college, I’ve learned a lot about how we can offer Him praise through everything we do, whether that’s on the track, in the classroom, or in the everyday things we do.”