Two-time national champion Cheadle found balance between competitive running, academics

Cheadle will graduate as one of the most accomplished runners in WashU athletics history.

Cheadle (left) will graduate as one of the most accomplished runners in WashU athletics history.

This March, Lucy Cheadle, a senior in chemical engineering in the School of Engineering & Applied Science, stood atop a podium after earning a gold medal in the women’s 5,000-meter run at the NCAA Division III Indoor Track & Field championship meet.

But she wasn’t thinking about her stats or her time, or even the fact that she had just picked up the second individual national title in her storied running career at Washington University in St. Louis. She was thinking about her teammates.

“Our team is like a family,” she said. “The fact that they get as excited as I do about a race — that means way more to me than how I’ve placed. I hope I’ve been a good influence on my teammates. That’s what I’m going to remember.”

And she will, because she keeps a race journal in which she chronicles not only her times and race statistics, but those times with friends and teammates that really have made a difference in her overall undergraduate experience.

“The stuff I write down is always the little random moments, like cooling down together, or preparing for the race, or hanging out with my coaches’ kids,” she said.

Cheadle won’t need to remember every race or every medal she has won in her four-year career at Washington University. That’s all chronicled here. She’ll graduate in May as one of the most decorated and accomplished runners in Bear Sports history, including two individual Division III national championships in the 3,000-meter steeplechase as a junior and the most recent 5,000-meter indoor title, three school records, and numerous All-American honors in track and cross country, among other achievements.

And she has done this while tackling a rigorous academic course load, all the time with an eye toward graduate school and a career in environmental engineering. How has she done it? “I must have good time-management skills,” she said, laughing. “I’ve survived. I’ve never known any other way. I’m a three-season athlete, so I don’t have an offseason.

“I’ve learned to value quality over quantity when it comes to class work, so I don’t spend as many hours as other students might in the engineering labs,” she said. “I don’t pull all-nighters to study. But I try to make sure when it’s time to do the work, I focus on it. I study a little bit every day. I don’t cram.”

Cheadle said she used that laser-sharp focus to work wherever she could, on the team bus, in the hotel rooms on road trips, even a weekend night on campus.

“Yes, my teammates and I would stay in and do homework on a Friday night and make those kinds of sacrifices,” she said. “But I never felt like I was missing out.”

It’s that kind of commitment — to class work, to running, to her teammates — that will serve Cheadle well in the next stage of her life. She plans to attend graduate school in environmental engineering at the University of Colorado, a field introduced to her by engineering faculty Jay Turner and Daniel Giammar, and then ultimately pursue a career in helping the environment.

“Both those professors were really great at helping me figure out graduate school and looking at where I wanted to go and what programs to look into,” she said. “One of the things I like about my major is how close the group of chemical engineers are. I think there are 30 of us, but in the past four years, since we’ve had so many classes together, we’ve really gotten to know each other.

“What’s really most enjoyable for me is how collaborative the department is, how accessible the professors are,” she said. “It always amazed me that I could email any professor and they’d always be willing to meet with me and help me with anything within the next day.”

It’s those personal connections with faculty, with her classmates and with her teammates that Cheadle is going to remember most about her time as a student-athlete at Washington University.

“That’s the hard part about WashU,” Cheadle said. “Everyone’s so driven, we’re going to scatter and find success all over the country.

“But I’m pretty confident we’ll come back.”


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