In the face of stiff competition, sometimes the most valuable tool is the element of surprise.
For Chicago's cross-country and track and field teams, surprise has been embodied by fourth-year team captain Emily Kay. A four-year member of both teams, Kay began her running career at Chicago as a part-time athlete. While she ran consistently in her first year, she did not do so at a competitive level.
"As an athlete Emily came out of high school with competitive but not exceptional times," head coach Chris Hall said. "It took her a couple of years to really begin to train like a collegiate runner but when she committed as a sophomore in track, she really began to post some pretty outstanding performances."
Her dedication to the program paid off. Along with her position as team captain for the 2004-2005 seasons, Kay earned All-Region honors in cross-country in 2003 and was a member of an NCAA-qualifying distance medley team in 2004. Kay's legacy will live on as a member of a program record-breaking 4x800-meter relay team and as a member of the second-fastest Chicago 4x400-meter relay team of all time.
Record books and conference honors aside, what most Maroons will remember about Kay are her amusing antics, positive attitude and desire to win. Kay's competitive drive is motivated by the prospect of team glory, rather than personal accolades.
"To go out with a bang for her last conference meet, Emily decided she wanted to run the 800-meter with a mullet," said second-year Annie Saunders, a teammate of Kay's since high school. "Emboldened by the speed mullet,' Emily decided to run the 5,000-meter, too, just in case she could score one more point for our team.
"Midway through the race, when it was clear that she wouldn't finish in scoring position, Coach Hall indicated to her that she could stop. But Emily kept on running, and finished one spot out of scoring position with a decent time. That kind of personal and team commitment is what Emily is all about, and it's an attitude that embodies what is best about our sport."
After she suffered an injury during the 2004 cross-country season, Kay's teammates realized how integral she was as a competitor and supporter. Kay's dedication to the squad becomes apparent when she describes her time spent running for Chicago.
"My first year in track there were only 16 women on the team. Now there are close to 50," said Kay. "I think the number one sign of our team improvement is our 4x400-meter relay. My first and second years, I would run the 4x400-meter relay because we had no one else. Coach Hall has built the team so much in the past four years that now we have actual sprinters to run the 4x400-meter relay. At our last track meet of the year, our 4x400-meter relay qualified for the national meet, and I realized just how much our team has improved."
"In many ways, I think I will remember the accomplishments of our track and field program much more than I will remember my own best races 10 years from now. Being a part of a team of individuals who work hard together to achieve the same goals will be something I will never forget."
After graduation, Kay, a biological sciences concentrator, will be headed to the University of Michigan's Biological Station to study the natural world. Her sunny personality and zany sense of humor should continue to be an asset to her in her field work there.
"Emily, more than anyone else, has contributed to the amazing success of our team over the last several years by helping to build an atmosphere and bond between the girls," Saunders said. "With the help of our wonderful coach, Emily has shaped this team a group of close friends who truly care about each other, and who run with, rather than against, each other. She has truly unified this team by leading, inspiring, and caring for all of us. If anyone is a true leader, Emily Kay is it."
"As a member of the team, Emily has always shown tremendous heart and has been outstanding in creating a positive atmosphere for everyone," said Hall. "In four years, I don't think I've ever seen her come into practice with anything but a positive attitude, and that has been infectious on the rest of the team. She will truly be missed."