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Going the Distance

LSU Cross Country Members Share Their Honors College Experiences
Going the Distance

Honors Student-Athletes. From left, Harrison Martingayle, Amber Desselle, Erika Lewis, Amelie Whitehurst, and Josef Schuster. Photo Credit: Jordan LaHaye

Ogden Honors students make it their mission to go the extra mile – and sometimes, that means literally.

This semester the Honors College shares five of its students with the LSU Cross Country team. Representing both athletics and academics, these students exemplify the dedication, motivation and passion that make up the Honors College.

According to Ogden Honors College Dean Jonathan Earle, there is a natural affinity between honors students and the scholar athletes who are recruited by top programs like LSU’s. “Both rely on skills like time-management, patience, practice, taking pride in one’s accomplishments and a competitive spirit,” he said. 

LSU Director of Athletics Joe Alleva agreed. “Excelling beyond your own expectations individually and as part of a team is something you can learn uniquely from sports,” he said. “These student-athletes clearly have that mentality and are great representatives of the purple and gold.”

Echoing that sentiment, Coach Dennis Shaver noted the high level of dedication it requires to succeed as student-athlete in college athletics today. “It’s important they work just as hard in the classroom as they do in training day in and day out to become the students and athletes we know they can be,” he said. “We pride ourselves as a program on achieving at the highest level in competition, in the classroom and in the community, and we’re certainly very proud of our athletes when they are recognized for their achievements.”

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For Biology freshman Amber Desselle, running on LSU’s Cross Country team was once nothing more than a dream.

“It was always the end term, the ultimate goal. I never realized it could actually happen,” she said.

Now, as Desselle runs through finish line after finish line of her debut season on LSU’s Cross Country team, that dream has become a reality.

“Running gave me discipline at such an early age,” she said. “If you don’t wake up and decide, this is what you’re going to do, then you won’t be any good. And that discipline translates to school.”

This ingrained discipline, combined with the community aspects of joining a team, have made Desselle’s transition to college seamless. Though the sport is in many ways individually motivated, Desselle explained that she and her teammates are undeniably united. “We’re definitely a team, and are all super close friends,” she said. “Practices are a lot of fun with all of them.”

Desselle is taking her first Honors course this semester in Chemistry, which is her minor. She hopes to find more ways to be involved in the College in the future as she works toward attending medical school and one day becoming an anesthesiologist.

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As for Biological Engineering major Erika Lewis, this is now her third year running for LSU, and she is preparing to conquer a new challenge this season: the steeplechase, a 3,000 meter race with four barriers and a water pit. However, stepping out of her comfort zone is nothing new for Lewis.

From West Des Moines, Iowa, Lewis left high school with one clear idea about her college plans: she wanted to run for LSU. “The distance coach from LSU reached out,” she remembers. “Their program was one of the best in the country. I just couldn’t turn it down.”

Erika Lewis. Photo Credit: Steve FranzAlongside her athletic endeavors, school has always been important to Lewis. “It’s definitely a balancing act,” she said. “You have to keep good contact with your professors, and I do a lot of homework while traveling.”

Beyond the cross country course, Lewis has enjoyed the chance to take classes outside of her regular engineering curriculum through the Honors College. “I’m in a Constitutional Conflicts seminar right now,” she said. “It’s really different from what I am usually learning. A lot of theory and talking through things; a different way of thinking.”

She intends to continue to be a part of the Honors program and to graduate with College Honors her senior year, planning an engineering design project as her thesis.

After graduation, Lewis hopes to get work as an engineer before eventually returning to school to pursue a Master’s degree. Regardless of her post-graduate goals, Lewis can’t imagine life without running.

“I run every day,” she said. “A lot of times it really sucks. But then there’s that one day, and you’re with your teammates, and the weather’s perfect. Or after a race, when you’ve never felt worse. Except you know you’ve done well, and there is nothing like that feeling.”

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Sophomore Josef Schuster has been running cross country ever since his freshman year of high school.

Today, Schuster wakes up almost every morning to run for LSU alongside his teammates. He chose to come to Baton Rouge after receiving an offer from the coach and falling in love with the campus on a visit.

A typical day for Schuster begins with 6:30 am practice with the team, and ends with late nights studying in Cox. “It can be a struggle to keep up with professors and classes, especially as an athlete who travels. But my professors are all really understanding,” he said. “And a lot of them are interested in how I’ve been doing and ask about my meets.”

Schuster is studying natural resource ecology and management, and joined the Honors College this past summer. “It’s definitely been a good experience. You get more one-on-one with the actual professor. I like the smaller class sizes and that we get more in-depth into topics.”

Schuster’s main goal at the moment is to graduate with College Honors so that he can attend graduate school. “I’m still figuring it all out, but I am really interested in becoming a wildlife biologist, maybe even getting my PhD eventually.”

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History sophomore Amelie Whitehurst never planned to run in college.

Amelie Whitehurst. Photo Credit: Steve Franz.

Fate — and an LSU coach — had different plans, however. At the state track meet her senior year, the LSU track coach approached her. He said she had great form, and encouraged her to join the team. A few years removed from that life-changing day, Whitehurst has gained much from her experience being a part of this team.

“The sport is very mental,” she said. “The types of people who do it are people who want to be successful, and those are the types of people I like to be around; people with a good work ethic and who are determined. It’s such a great environment to be in.”

According to Whitehurst, the sport has taught her a lot about balancing her time wisely, and has helped her to maintain a healthy routine. She believes that a lot of her academic success can be directly attributed to things she has learned as a runner.

With her history major and a minor in political science, Whitehurst plans on one day attending law school to pursue criminal law. Constitutional Conflicts (the same that Lewis is taking), is her favorite college course so far, and it has solidified her desire to pursue law.

In Honors courses, like on her team, Whitehurst has found a positive environment with individuals motivated to learn and to work hard.

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When Sports Commerce and Spanish sophomore Harrison Martingayle began researching colleges almost a year and a half ago, he was searching for the perfect combination of academics and athletics.

“I asked myself, if I can’t run, where would I choose to go?” he said.

Harrison Martingayle. Photo Credit: Steve Franz.

The more he learned about LSU’s athletic programs combined with its academic prowess and the opportunity to join the Ogden Honors College, Martingayle felt more and more certain he had found his home. He sought out the coach, sold him on a promise to work hard and improve, and flew from Virginia Beach to Baton Rouge to join the team.

After graduation, he hopes to attain a joint degree in law and mass communications in order to pursue a career as an athletic director at the Division 1 level. Martingayle’s short term goals, however, include placing at the upcoming SCC championship.

“It’s such a social sport, and really helps to relieve stress,” he said. “Running is always something to fall back on, where you learn to just push through. You really can’t fake success either. The clock never lies. The whole culture of that just has always attracted me.”

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According to Kenneth Miles, Assistant Vice Chancellor of Academic Affairs & Executive Director of the Cox Communications Academic Center for Student-Athletes, developing student-athletes academically, cognitively, personally and professionally by providing a student-centered support structure is key to helping them succeed.

“Similarly to the Ogden Honors College, we believe in the process and the investment and expect a high rate of return. Student-athletes who are in the Honors College represent the quintessential student-athlete who understands the duality of their role and knows that the ultimate goal is to become a scholar student-athlete,” Miles explained. “I appreciate and applaud the collective efforts of Dean Earle and his team as they challenge and prepare our student-athletes to become great citizens and ambassadors of LSU. Ogden and ACSA is certainly a winning combination and force to be reckoned with.”

The Roger Hadfield Ogden Honors College is a vibrant, diverse and prestigious community located at the heart of LSU. The Ogden Honors College provides students with a curriculum of rigorous seminar classes, as well as opportunities for undergraduate research, culminating in the Honors Thesis. Its focus on community service, study abroad, internships and independent research helps today’s high-achieving students become tomorrow’s leaders.

Story and cover photo by Jordan LaHaye. All additional photos courtesy of Steve Franz.