By Paul Payton
Big 12 Campus Correspondent
Athletes come from all over the world to become student-athletes and participate in college athletics throughout the United States. In the case of Kansas State sophomore cross country runner Laura Galvan, she came from Guanajuato, Mexico. Before Galvan began her cross country career at K-State she began running at an early age.
"I had been running since I was 11 years old. I decided to run while I was in Mexico and I continued to improve," Galvan said. "Coach (Michael) Smith saw me run at a competition in California while I was on a Mexican National team and then invited me to K-State. He offered me a scholarship and after a while, I accepted and now I'm here. The first time I ever competed in a cross country meet was last season when I first arrived at K-State."
Once Galvan chose K-State, she had to get used to not just being at a new school, but a different country.
"Everything was different. The language, culture, everything," Galvan said. "It was a huge transition. I don't speak with my family as much and I am now more independent. I thought it would be hard, but did not expect it to be as hard as it was. I thought it would take quite a while, but it actually took almost two years to adjust to everything. Now I'm trying to work hard as a cross country student-athlete because that is what got me here."
Although it took time to get adjusted to K-State, there were two parts of Galvan's transition that were most difficult.
"When I came here I could not speak English," Galvan said. "Things were hard for me because of that. I had to take the SAT in order to come here and once I passed it, I thought I knew how to speak English. Once I got here though, it was really different and I could not speak to anybody. I had to take a couple of English classes my freshman year, but I finally learned it and am now taking regular classes. Cross country changed significantly for me as well. Last year, I just ran fast, but this season I've become a better runner."
Galvan not only quickly learned to embrace K-State, but the city of Manhattan as well.
"I really like it. When I decided to come here, I had in my mind that Manhattan was a big city," she said. "Once I made it to campus for the first time, I saw how small it was and realized how similar it was to Guanajuato. I really like it because there is not a big difference between Manhattan and Guanajuato. We can run outside of town, I really enjoy my teammates and the campus is very pretty."
While the K-State cross country team is not as large as other teams within the Big 12, Galvan is more than excited about being a part of the team.
"We have a small team of just 10 runners while there are other teams like Oklahoma that has 60 runners. That makes it hard to have a one-on-one relationship with the coach since they have a large team. Here, Coach Smith cares a lot about us since we are such a small team. We all communicate amongst each other well. I really like that we are a small team, all of us are friends and we get along really well."
Smith believes Galvan's improved consistency and training between her freshman and sophomore year helped her grow as a runner.
"Last year, there was some inconsistency because she was not used to training," Smith said. "She had run, but had not trained. She had competed off of recreational running, and now she is competing off of training, which is a lot more involved and demanding. Last year when we were training, she got hurt and was overwhelmed with that and the level of competition. This year, she has adapted to training, life and school, and she can compete to the best of her ability. She is healthy, fit, motivated and confident. Each quality adds up to successful outcomes, and hopefully she continues to have that happen."
The impact Galvan has had on the cross country team is seen from Smith and the rest of the team on a daily basis.
"Her impact has been to set an example of what is possible so others train to the level they see," he said. "She is setting a good bar, and I expect her to raise the bar even higher by the end of this year and during the next two years. The best part about it is that she is training and competing well as a sophomore. Laura has a chance to run better than Beverly Ramos as a sophomore, and that's the thing our women can see. It opens their eyes since some of our women were here and saw that. Laura is training higher than many of our sophomore women ever have."
This season has gone well for Galvan, thanks to earning three top 10 finishes in her first four meets. That includes a second place finish at the JK Gold Classic with a time of 13:42.52, a win at the Woody Greeno Invitational with a time of 21:10.0 and a seventh place finish at the Rim Rock Classic by clocking a time of 20:58.60. Galvan also was named to the 2012 Academic All-Big 12 Cross Country squad for the first time in her career. Although she has had a strong season so far, she knows there still is a way she can improve.
"One thing I can improve on is to be more aggressive at the front with the runners who are running at the front of the pack," said Galvan. "I have not done that in the last few races. The girls I run against are very good and I need to be careful of the tactics I use. The runners I compete against are good and they can run fast, but at the end of the race, it matters how smart they are. Through these races, I have gained a lot of experience about how to be smarter."
Smith shared a story that summarizes Galvan as a person and a student-athlete.
"Laura once said to me that I am in your hands and to mold me," Smith said. "She told us that she will listen and do what we ask her to. If there is an athlete who buys in and is completely on board, there are fewer limits because they will do what they have to do. As long as we do a good job of preparing her, she will be very successful. When she told me that she was in my hands, I knew she was completely on board with everything we were trying to do. At that point, there is no questioning of anything and she is able to exceed her own expectations or at least try to reach them."