By David Cohen
Big 12 Campus Correspondent
TCU freshman cross country runner Bailey Sullivan grew up 15 minutes from a Big 12 campus, and says her favorite things about her new school are the people she has met and the way athletes are treated.
She may be a native of Lawrence, Kan., but her home is now Fort Worth.
“The fact that TCU is in the Big 12 was very attractive to me,” Sullivan said. “That was one thing that drove me here in the first place. I looked at both Kansas and Kansas State, particularly KU, but I knew I wanted to get a little more distance.
“I can be in the Big 12 but not ridiculously far away.”
Sullivan’s rise in the recruiting ranks began, as her Free State High School cross country coach Steve Heffernan said, “inauspiciously.” As he recalls, Sullivan embraced the sport to stay in shape for soccer.
After seeing her run more in person and inquiring about her past experience, Heffernan had Sullivan run an 800-meter event, and around four months later “her promise of a runner began to appear and she began what would be a very good high school career.”
Sullivan will also credit a trusted source that first gave her the cross country idea.
“In junior high, in seventh and eighth grade, I was more of a sprinter because nobody wanted to do distance,” she said. “But then my freshman year, one of my friend’s parents who had older children who had gone to my high school recommended I do cross country. She said it was a good experience and I could meet lots of great people.”
Sullivan may have had an unlikely path to even beginning her sport, but she has shown plenty of potential in her first two TCU meets. She finished 21st at the Baylor Twilight Invitational on Aug. 29 and was ninth at the UTA Season Opener on Sept. 13.
TCU head coach Laura Harmon, a former All-American at Oregon State, has already pinpointed the foundation of her early success as well as for her future.
“I think that [Bailey’s] best quality in this short amount of time I’ve had to work around her is that she wraps her brain around anything you tell her to do,” Harmon said. “One of the best qualities with any athlete is how coachable they are, and if I tell her to do anything, she does it. That’s something that’s going to pay dividends to her and the team.”
Heffernan shares similar sentiments.
“She is very coachable, which is an attribute that is very much appreciated
these days,” he said. “Our Kansas winters can be harsh and she rarely missed a day
over four years, and she shows a high commitment to her team and her coaches.”
Sullivan is one of three members on the women’s team to come from the north. Collegiate runners know the importance of training in the rain or shine, and Sullivan especially covers all the bases from her past experiences in the Kansas winters to her new environment in the Texas heat.
“Our coach’s standards were that if it was icy outside, we would stay indoors,” she said. “It’s hard because running in the halls is pretty bad for you, so [the other non-icy days] we would go outside all the time, and I got pretty good at layering because we had to run in the snow sometimes.
“There was a point in time this winter where we got a ridiculous snowstorm and I had to use the treadmill for a week.”
Now a converted Texan, Sullivan will be able to embrace a little bit of a home-course advantage on Nov. 1, when TCU heads to the Big 12 Championships in Lawrence.
“In high school, we ran 4ks. I know that course, and it’s basically the same,” she said. “This will be a 6k, so I don’t know it exactly, but I have run it countless times. KU practices there, so they know it really well. Other than that, I can’t think of anyone off the top of my head besides KU and K-State girls [with course familiarity].”
While Sullivan is nothing but smiles about her TCU and Fort Worth experiences thus far, especially her love for the popular dessert locale Sweet Sammies, there is one other light-hearted battle to be won.
Sullivan’s father, Pat, is a KU fan, and Bailey is doing her best to show him her purple is different than K-State’s purple.
“We got him to wear a white shirt with a little bit of purple for the last meet, which is a big step up,” she said.
As far as getting to this year’s Big 12 Championships and beyond, the Horned Frogs can expect big things in their future. Sullivan, who led all TCU runners at the UTA Season Opener, and fellow freshmen Anna Cozart and Dominique Tilly have been TCU’s top three performers at each of the first two meets.
“I feel like the older girls have given us really good advice so far,” Sullivan said. “It’s nice having a young team because we are all on the same page, and it’s really exciting to have a young team running well so far because we will get better and better.”
Sullivan is also embracing the student aspect of the student-athlete life. While just a freshman, she has her declared major and a bit of a career plan for now.
“My major is movement science, so I’m thinking physical therapy school since that’s where a lot of people go with my major,” she said. “I don’t really know a lot about it, so I need to get some experience in shadowing and internships to see if that’s what I really like.”