By Chelsey Kraft
Big 12 Campus Correspondent
Last spring, Jessica Engel, a cross country runner at the University of Oklahoma, was granted the chance to be a Sooner student-athlete for a little longer.
Engel, currently a redshirt senior, returned to school for her 2009 campaign with a pain in her lower leg. After running just one race, Engel discovered that she had a stress fracture in her tibia. The following 2010 year, Engel suffered the same injury and was unable to compete the entire season.
A decision had to be made, and Engel filled out the paperwork to request a sixth year of competitive eligibility from the NCAA. Her request was granted toward the end of outdoor track season last spring.
"When I found out, I was actually closing out what I thought was my Sooner career," Engel explained. "I was a little bit surprised because I wasn't sure what the chances of that happening were, but at the same time, I was excited that I was going to get another opportunity."
Throughout the duration of her two injuries, Engel showed determination, explained Molly Ferguson, Engel's senior teammate.
"It just shows her drive to succeed and her love for the sport," Ferguson remarked.
Even though she could not run herself, Engel still showed up at meets to support her teammates.
For Ferguson, Engel leads by example. Whether going through drills or weight room activities, she makes sure to do it perfectly every time.
"We always joke around because she always looks really intimidating and serious throughout our practices," Ferguson said. "But she's super sweet. She cares about us and wants us to do well."
Assistant coach Mary Jayne Reeves agrees that Engel leads by example.
"She is not very vocal. She isn't loud and doesn't cheer," Reeves shared. "There is a silent excellence about her. She doesn't draw attention to herself. She is very humble and meek about her capabilities, but that meekness is actually really loud."
Engel's toughness is a quality that sets her apart from other runners, according to her distance coach.
"Different training situations show how tough an athlete is, and it is a quality that is not created," Reeves explained. "Someone is either tough or they are not, and Jess is."
Reeves continued about her runner's success, "She is also focused, which is important in distance running where training well consistently is vital to success."
"There is no magic in running," Reeves went on to say. "There is in football and basketball where you might get a lucky shot, but there isn't in running. Every weakness and strength is revealed when you are out there, and she just has the ability to pull all those strengths together. That's why she does so well."
The senior began to run in eighth grade after the varsity coach asked her to come by and try out at a practice. Even though she didn't really want to go, her dad convinced her to try it, and she's been running ever since.
Outside of running, Engel enjoys baking, cooking and reading.
"One of her specialty recipes is fruit pizza," Ferguson recalls. "I remember a time where she made one for me and another teammate. We stood in the parking lot rubbing our stomachs waiting for the pizza."
On her visit to OU, Engel said she clicked with the girls on the team and looked up to Jess Eldridge, an OU runner at the time. That, combined with her love of the campus and atmosphere, contributed to her decision to become a Sooner.
"Everyone around here is just so proud to be a Sooner, and that atmosphere can be hard to find," Engel remarked.
For Engel, academics are important as well, and since she wants to do her best in everything she purses, she does her best to balance the roles of student-athlete.
"A lot of times it can be pretty hard to do if you're not dedicated and focused, so I think that those two qualities of dedication and focus have really helped me balance everything and not let one completely crumble due to the other," Engel explained.
At the recent Big 12 Championship held October 27 in Austin, Texas, Engel finished fifth, earning her second-consecutive All-Big 12 honor.
Engel said the race gave her some confidence going into the NCAA Midwest Regional on November 9 in Springfield, Mo., while also showing where she needs to polish her technique.
After graduating in August 2012 with a bachelor's degree in health and exercise science, Engel picked up a second major in microbiology in order to compete this fall.
Currently she is completing the prerequisites needed for admission into physician's assistant school. In the spring, she hopes to run unattached at some track meets.
But for now, Engel will continue to don the Crimson and Cream and run in that Oklahoma uniform.