Graduating cross country star races toward next obstacle

    Mimi Hodgins ran 80 miles a week in preparation for a strenuous 2005 cross country season that saw her team make program history with a seventh-place finish at the NCAA Division II Championships. The Eleanor Roosevelt College senior’s dedication to the UCSD athletics program during her four-year career led to her consistently impressive finishes and her leadership role on the team.

    Hodgins and five other seniors led the women’s squad of 20 runners into this season after a 17th-place national finish last year, but came away with a record-setting finish in this year’s championships. Hodgins attributes the 10-spot increase to the team’s closeness and work ethic.

    “We really worked on trusting each other and working and practicing together really helps us change the dynamic of the team,” Hodgins said. “We did adjustments in training … and a lot of our girls run at the same level, so they got to train together, which is really helpful.”

    But Hodgins is not the same as most other runners and ran separately on many occasions for more intense physical training. The long hours at the gym have paid off, improving Hodgins’ 128th-place finish at the championships in her freshman year to the No. 23 spot she landed this year. Hodgins said that her overtime work through the years accounts for the improvement since her first year.

    “I obviously ran a lot more, a lot harder,” she said. “I went from running 45-50 miles a week to 80 miles a week. You just get tougher and learn how to race.”

    Hodgins is obviously a quick learner; her finishes in the playoffs paint an impressive running resume.

    At the California Collegiate Athletic Association Championships in San Francisco on Oct. 22, Hodgins finished first overall to give the Tritons their second CCAA title of all time. In the NCAA West Regional, the next leg of the race en route to the D-II title, Hodgins shined again, finishing first overall in a field of 146 to advance the Tritons to the championships after a second-place ranking in the NCAA West.

    “I’m proud of Regionals because I kicked my own ass to win that race,” Hodgins said. “I really struggled to win and in the [CCAA Championship] I just went out there and ran great, but no one was there [behind me]. In Regionals, I actually had to fight for it, which makes me more proud of it.”

    With all of the success she had, it’s no wonder that Hodgins is one of the most decorated athletes at UCSD. She earned All-CCAA honors as well as the Triton Racer of the Year award for her junior-year performance. This year she was crowned CCAA Runner of the Year and took the NCAA Div. II West Regional Title and says she does not mind the constant pressure stemming from her track record.

    “I do like trophies,” Hodgins said. “It’s rewarding to get them, but I’d put the same amount of pressure on myself if I got them or not. Because [drive] is something within you, it’s not anything that an award is going to justify, although they’re nice to have.”

    Hodgins never dreamed of trophies and awards when her parents decided to get an over-hyper young Mimi involved in something to get her out of a household of five other siblings.

    “My parents put me in club track when I was six years old and I just loved it and was always one of the best at it,” Hodgins said.

    After developing an interest in running at a young age, Hodgins joined the cross country and track teams at Malibu High School before being recruited to run at UCSD.

    Hodgins said she was excited to leave her high school team for college athletics because of the skills a young runner can gain from increased competition.

    “It’s good to be with people who are better than you because they will push you to be the best,” Hodgins said.

    This season, Hodgins was the one who pushed her teammates by showing them what’s possible if you work “40-plus hours a week” as Hodgins does.

    As a senior, Hodgins also was charged with leading the younger runners, as others did for her.

    “When I was a freshman, there was a girl named Audrey Sung, who was much in the place that I am now,” Hodgins said. “She was way faster than everyone else and I idolized her and I remember looking at her and saying, ‘Wow, I want to be like Audrey some day.’ And it’s funny because I’ve actually gone faster than her, but at the same time I never could even think that I’m faster than her. And now, I’ve noticed that things I say, the younger people emulate [them].”

    Despite her obvious importance to the team, Hodgins knows her role and does not let her success get to her head. The other senior Tritons help with the less experienced runners too, so the team will need a new hero after graduation this year.

    “I think I am a big part of the team, but I am also one of six senior girls, so I know a lot of them have a lot of impact on [the younger girls],” Hodgins said. “It’s going to be a hard loss for the team, but they’ll regroup and be okay.”

    Hodgins has faith in the future of the cross country team because of the leadership of 14th-year head coach Ted Van Arsdale, winner of the 2005 CCAA Coach of the Year.

    “I have a very good relationship with Coach Van Arsdale,” Hodgins said. “He’s a very good listener and he’ll never ask you or tell you that you can do something if he doesn’t think you can do it. He’s not going to tell me ‘I think you can go out there and win Nationals’ unless he thinks I can do it, which is something that I work really well with because I know he believes in me.”

    Despite her good relationship with her coach, Hodgins stressed the importance of self-motivation for success in running.

    “I think you do need the guidelines in place, but the team has to want to do it, and no coach can force anyone to do that,” Hodgins said. “You [have] to want to do it yourself and you [have] to get those people within the group who have influence over other people. But definitely the coaches do help because the structure has to be there.”

    The combination of the structure put out by the coaches and the dedication put forth by the runners was the key ingredient to the Tritons having their best season in program history. However, with success comes questions about the future of the program, and when any Triton team does as well as the cross country runners did in 2005, discussions will arise about pushing UCSD out of the Division II spectrum. However, according to Hodgins, the NCAA level at which the Tritons play is not an issue.

    “Running is different than a lot of other team sports because we don’t compete one-on-one,” Hodgins said. “I can go to a race against 15 girls from 15 different schools and half of them could be D-I and half could be D-III. So, for the running program it doesn’t really matter what division you are because we get the same competition no matter what division you’re in.”

    Although Hodgins does not feel that a D-I promotion would be helpful to the cross country team, she did express an interest in the other debate concerning UCSD athletics: scholarships.

    “I like the idea of equal scholarships for everyone,” Hodgins said. “But when I came here, I liked it that everyone was here because they wanted to be here, not because they had to be here for scholarships.”

    Hodgins is currently training for the upcoming track season before an early graduation. Then, Hodgins must decide how much effort she wants to put into continuing a career in running. As of now, Hodgins, an anthropology major, said she is interested in running for “at least the next few years.”

    “I will probably run and try to get sponsored by a pro team and hopefully I will get an internship or a job with a museum doing research or a nonprofit organization trying to help underprivileged children,” she said.

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