Sara Hess didn’t know what cross country was until her junior year in high school. A former volleyball player, she decided to try cross country.
“I made the switch because I was enjoying track so much and the volleyball team dynamics weren’t so great.” Hess recalled. “I wanted to try something new and it went really well. Cross country has a very unique team dynamic.”
Hess visited a lot of private colleges in Iowa, but Northwestern stuck out as distinctly Christian. To make it even more special, her sister, Jayme, decided to attend NW as well. “It was not decided together. We both liked the same place,” said Hess. “It’s a good feeling to have a piece of home with you. She’s a wonderful sister, and I’m so thankful for her.”
Choosing a major has been an interesting journey for Hess. “I have for a long time been interested in health,” she said, “but ironically I never thought I wanted to be a doctor, which is what I’m now pursuing.”
She declared a Spanish major partway through her freshman year, but a summer in Nicaragua gave her time to reflect, and she decided to add pre-medical classes to supplement her major.
Through the trials of balancing athletics and academics with life, Hess said she’s learned consistency. She explained, “I like to think I always work hard, but there’s a difference between just working hard and consistently working hard. Running can become a lifelong thing that transfers to other areas of my life.”
Hess’s fondest memories include long runs on Saturday mornings and then pancake brunches at Coach Dale Thompson’s house. She will miss bonding with her teammates and the conversations that happen along the way.
As a captain on the cross country team, Hess helped choose the theme, 1 Corinthians 9:24-27, with an emphasis on running “in such a way as to win the prize.” Just as she makes many sacrifices to be a runner, she emphasizes: “faith is what permeates our whole life, and that’s what I hope is true of me. I want it to shine through as my motivation and my purpose.”
Hess struggled this year with the purpose of being in cross country since it prevented her from being involved in other ministries, but through talks with Coach Thompson, she realized she was in the sport for a reason. “I realized it’s an ability I have,” she said, “and I want to use it. I have learned about consistency in a way I wouldn’t have otherwise. I have a team that I’ve learned to be more mindful of than in high school.”
As she reflects on her four years, Hess said, “I just love our coaches! I keep thinking how thankful I am to get to run with the ladies and the guys and have such wonderful, patient, wise coaches.”
Hess will finish up her classes this spring and will study abroad for a semester next year. She’s still deciding between Guatemala, Costa Rica and Mexico. The year after that, she hopes to attend medical school.