June 6, 2003

Record books no match for likes of Mesa

Fourth-year Clarisse Mesa will graduate next week as the only athlete in the history of University of Chicago athletics to earn a place on five all-time lists in track and field. She currently holds the school record in the 3000-meter steeplechase with a time of 12:05.33 and is also ranked among the top ten in the 800 meters (sixth), the 1,500 meters (eighth), the 5,000 meters (sixth), and the 10,000 meters (sixth). Her personal records in those events are 2:20.66, 4:48.01, 18.40.44, and 39.56.24, respectively.

But her seemingly endless list of statistics and accomplishments only begins with athletics. Mesa's cumulative GPA stands at 3.7 and she will graduate with honors in political science and public policy. She has never once missed the Dean's List and is a member of the college's elite Maroon Key Society. She is a founding member of the student organization FIRE, a one-time news editor of the Chicago Weekly News, a campus tour guide, a volunteer for Skating on the Midway, and also a Sunday school teacher at St. Thomas.

Indeed, she never had a day of rest, at least not for the last four years. But this myriad of deeds and doings is merely part of the everyday experience of U of C living for Mesa, who humbly dismisses records and achievements, preferring rather to dwell on the simpler joys of what will soon be her retrospective college experience.

"What I'll miss most about being on the cross country and track teams is the 'every day': my most vivid memories will be stretching at the C-carpet in the field house, warming up along the river walk at North Central, and driving up to the glowing lights of the Indiana Toll Road sign on our way back into town those late Saturday nights."

She dismisses too the impressive string of top 10 performances as "pretty cool" but points out that her successes were merely a matter of hard work and then enjoying the consequences: "I'd put in the work since last summer, and I had fun with my outdoor season."

Her teammates on the cross country and track teams emphasize that they will remember Mesa more as a leader and a friend than anything else. Brandon Halcott, a second-year sprinter on the men's track team, said he would miss Mesa's individual style and flair, saying, "She lives a very alternative lifestyle in her own rocker sort of way." He also noted, "We as a team will miss the X-Games shirt and air guitar ballads she gave us each practice."

Mesa describes her views on running as having changed over her four years. "First year, running meant loving racing so much that I could get through the workouts. Now, it has come to mean loving running itself," she said.

And she advised her teammates to this more encompassing outlook on life: "I have two pieces of advice for my teammates: One) You can't want success; you have to prepare for it, Two) Enjoy being on a college team-every moment of it."

Mesa has accepted a two-year position teaching secondary school English in Philadelphia for the selective and nationally renowned Teach For America program. After that, she plans to return to school to earn a Ph.D. in political science.

And her plans for running? "Of course I'll still run. Tom [Haxton, her long-time boyfriend] said it's over if I ever become a fitness jogger, and I couldn't bear to go slower than J[essica] Winter's recovery pace."