Perseverance the Key for Natalie Becker

Oct. 7, 2011

Redshirt sophomore Natalie Becker will be the first to admit her running career at Kansas hasn’t gone exactly as she had planned. A highly-touted recruit coming out of high school, she was a four-time Missouri All-State selection for cross country. The St. Louis native was getting scholarship offers from schools from around the Midwest. The expectation was that she would contribute to her college team’s success immediately and goals of standing on medal stands and hoisting trophies where endless. Things haven’t quite gone so perfectly, not yet anyway.

100711aaa_264_4157364.jpegOffers from Kansas, Missouri and Tulsa gave Becker some tough decisions to make as she departed high school. After all, her father, Eric, had run cross country at Missouri. So it was obvious the direction he was pushing his daughter. Tulsa appealed to Becker as well because she liked the coach and the city, but she kept coming back to KU. The girls on the team seemed to have the tight bond that she had been looking for. So in the spring of 2009, much to the chagrin of her dad, Becker decided to cross the rivalry lines and make her college home in Lawrence.

“It was definitely tough for my dad,” Becker explained of her college decision. “I really liked the team and the girls so KU just seemed like a great fit for me.”

Becker’s plans of helping the team to conference titles and national supremacy were quickly snatched away when a strain of injuries cut her freshman year short. As happens with so many freshmen runners, their bodies get strained by the increased volume of running, making injuries inevitable. One injury after another sidelined Becker her first year, forcing coaches to utilize her redshirt season.

“It’s been hard but you have to stay focused mentally and stay positive,” said Becker of working through her injuries. “I’ve had to do a lot of work outside of practice, which has been tough, but I think it’s definitely paid off in the long run.”

Once healthy, Becker was ready to make her mark on the team as she began her first season of competition in the fall of 2010. She didn’t disappoint. She moved her way up the KU women’s pack and quickly became one of its top runners. She scored in each meet of the 2010 campaign and turned some heads in the process.

100711aaa_264_5706815.jpeg“(Natalie) had an excellent season last year in cross country,” said Assistant Coach Michael Whittlesey. “The 2010 season was just the tip of the iceberg of what she is capable of and that was just her first full season.”

The confidence and work ethic Coach Whittlesey has instilled in her and her teammates is one of the best things Becker says she has gained from her time at KU. There’s no doubt he was one of the biggest influences in her comeback from her numerous injuries over the past two years.

“Coach Whitt is awesome,” Becker said. ” He really knows when to push you and when to back off a little bit. He’s very personable and I think that fits my personality really well.”

With her confidence sky-high following the break-out year in the Crimson and Blue, Becker was ready to take her running to the next level as she prepared for the 2011 season. She began summer workouts with a drive and determination her coaches and teammates hadn’t seen before.

Once again though, her body betrayed her, forcing her to work through yet another setback.

Early in the summer, Becker was diagnosed with mononucleosis, an illness that literally sucks the energy out of you. A shortage of vigor isn’t exactly what a serious runner can deal with as she goes through an arduous training regimen. But as she had done the year before, she worked through it and made the best of a bad situation.

“This summer was hard when I got sick,” explained Becker. “I had to run by myself and do the workouts on my own. It’s a lot better now that I’m here and I’m getting back into shape.”

Coming back from this bout of bad luck has been easier for Becker though, because this time she has had the added support of her teammates, several of whom live with her in a house in Lawrence. The friendships Becker has made with her teammates have made the recovery from this summer’s sickness seem nearly effortless.

“They’ve helped me so much through workouts,” said Becker of her teammates. “They know what to say to get me motivated. It’s not always the nicest stuff, but it gets the job done. They’ve been really supportive through my injuries and it’s been great having them there to help me through it.”

While Becker, just a sophomore, lives with several teammates who are a year older eligibility-wise, they will no doubt be looking to her to lead the team next season. With the departure of senior Rebeka Stowe, the team’s top runner, next season the KU women will expect Becker to take the reins and lead them to success in 2012. This is a position that Becker isn’t at all reluctant to take on.

“I’m definitely ready for it,” explained Becker of the chance to lead the team in the future. “I think it’s important for the girls to know that they can talk to me but also lead them on the course and push them in practice.”

100711aaa_264_5706814.jpegBecker is quick not to look too far ahead, however. The 2011 season is just over one month old and there are still opportunities for her and her team to make big strides in the remaining meets. While she admits she is still not back to 100 percent from her bout with mono, she knows she is close and is ready to compete in her first meet of the season. Coach Whittlesey agrees and believes with her addition, the team is capable of doing great things in the second half of the season.

“I think she can really come on late this season and help us out a lot,” said Coach Whittlesey. “We’re still working on increasing the volume of each workout but I really like the way she approaching everything right now.”

Becker hopes she can make her return at the Oct. 14 meet in Madison, Wis. It is said to be the most competitive meet in the country this season, even more so then the NCAA Championships. In fact, it was at the Wisconsin meet where Becker believes she had her breakout race at KU and is hoping she can carry that over to this season.

Becker knows that if she stays healthy she could be one of the top runners, not only in the conference, but in the country. Her coach has pounded that confidence in her time and time again and now it’s all about avoiding injury and making herself and her team better.

“I think Natalie Becker should be thinking All-American before she leaves (KU),” concluded Coach Whittlesey. “That should be her focus and one of her goals and hopefully she’s carrying the team with her.”

Becker may not be thinking on that grand of a scale at the moment, but all of those around her know she has the potential to achieve great things. Now, she is only concerned about doing what she can for her team and hopefully the individual accolades will follow.

“For myself I just want to try and contribute to the team as much as I can,” said Becker. “Whether I’m scoring in the top seven or pushing people in workouts I just want to help any way I can.”