For many gifted athletes, joy comes in the form of thriving under pressure, excelling in competition, and putting up numbers, either on the field, court, or course. But for fourth-year cross country runner Hannah Moots, who hadn’t originally planned on making running part of her Chicago experience, athletics is a supplement to an otherwise balanced life.
“What I get out of the experience is my teammates, connecting with other people, and connecting to my city,” Moots said. “Running is a vehicle for other things; it’s a vehicle for knowledge and for shared experience. Running for running’s sake means nothing to me, but running for everything that comes with it means everything.”
At a school that seemingly defines the scholar–athlete label, Moots was able to relax her focus enough to epitomize the successful balance of classroom and cross-country course. After helping the Maroons to a sixth-place regional finish and earning a spot on the UAA All-Academic team her second year, she was given a last minute opportunity to work on an archaeological dig in the Sahara desert during the fall quarter as part of a National Geographic grant.
The offer left Moots, also a distance runner on Chicago’s track and field teams, choosing between participating in a promising third-year cross-country season and making a run at NCAAs or taking a once in a lifetime educational chance.
“It was difficult for me,” Moots said, “because I trained all summer, we had a really good team, we knew they were going to be great, and I was really looking forward to running cross country. It was hard because it was definitely shaping up to be a great season and the team did so great.”
“The opportunity that was offered to her educationally was just something that she couldn’t turn down,” head coach Chris Hall said, “and I think it really tore her apart. To be honest with you, I really thought she’d be doing the wrong thing to stick around here and run cross country.”
Even with the knowledge that she would likely have been among her team’s seven-runner NCAA contingent if the Maroons’ talented roster made it that far, Moots got on a plane. As the season went on without her, she set her sights on returning from Africa in time to watch her squad head to Nationals if they managed to make the cut.
“One of the things that she really hoped to do that year, she did everything she could to get back for the national championships,” Hall said. “[The team] knew that Hannah was trying to get back, and I think that was something in the back of their minds, ‘We’d like to get there so that she could be there and her trip wouldn’t be wasted.’”
After two months in the desert without contact with the outside world, Moots found out that the Maroons had secured an at-large berth to NCAAs when she was in Paris on her way back to the states. She flew home in time to travel with the team to West Chester, Ohio, and watch their 19th place finish from the sidelines.
“That’s what Hannah was always about,” Hall said. “If she wasn’t going to be able to compete, she really wanted to be there to see and cheer on her teammates. I think she really just enjoyed the opportunity to get back and see them compete and get to NCAAs, that’s the type of person she was.”
“She’s really a solid team member,” Hall continued. “I believe that she cares as much about what we’re trying to accomplish in terms of the program and the team as what she does in her individual accomplishments.”
This team dedication and ability to think with a group mindset would prove critical in Moots’s fourth year, when she returned to play an important leadership role as one of only two fourth-years on the roster and the Maroons’ sole captain.
Immediately stepping into the shoes of a team leader, Moots made the most of the potential that she had deferred on her trip abroad, pacing the Maroons in two of her first three meets this fall, and always finishing within Chicago’s top two. When the squad traveled to Boston to take on the crowded UAA field, Moots was again at the front of the pack for the South Siders, placing 13th out of 78 as Chicago took fourth place. With her 23:24 finish, Moots became the only Maroon to earn conference honors, taking a spot on the All-UAA Second Team.
“Being an All-conference runner in our conference, it’s not easy,” Hall said. “It’s one of the best conferences in the country.”
The second Maroon to cross the finish line at the Midwest Regional, Moots capped her cross-country career by finishing 56th in the 266-athlete race.
While Chicago’s 14th place finish deprived the Nashville, Tennessee native of her own trip to Nationals, Moots was unfazed and was instead grateful for her own successful season.
“I hadn’t been expecting to have the very good season I had,” said Moots, “and I was really surprised to get to the regional meet and have a shot at personally making nationals.”
This February, Moots further showcased her ability to balance athletics and academics when she was the only Maroon named to the U.S. Track and Field and Cross Country Coaches’ Association All-Academic Team.
After writing her B.A. on her Saharan research, Moots will graduate next month with a degree in biology. The National Geographic feature about her dig will be released in the fall.