Cross-country and track stalwart Lizzy Whelan has her sights set on making the Pan Am Games in Toronto.
It will be a bit of a homecoming for the Branksome Hall alumna, who is studying studio arts and communications at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill, N.C.
The Town Crier first spoke with Whelan in June 2010, where she was standout in the 800- and 1500m runs. She won a silver that year in the 800 at OFSAA.
Now, she’s doing the same for the Tar Heels, finishing second on Sept. 19 in the 6 km Virginia Tech Alumni Invite with a time of 21:11.00.
After three years of working under coach Mark VanAlstyne, as well as assistants Angela Reckart and Logan Roberts, Whelan has honed her running skills beyond her years at Branksome Hall, to the point where “you come to race so often that you can’t get too choked up about racing anymore.”
“I know I used to get super nervous about races,” she said in an October interview. “I’d get so worked up even if it was just a small little meet.
“That’s just something you can’t do that in college. You’re running too often, you can’t waste that energy. You have to take everything in stride and you have to know that you’re not going to win every race. I’ve gained a thick skin.”
Still, even if Whelan was nervous she won OFSAA gold twice in the 800m (2009, 2011) during her time at Branksome. She also won four other medals during her three years under the tutelage of coach Lisa Zorzitto.
“I definitely learned about the team aspect of running from Mrs. Zorzitto, and just the positivity of all those Branksome girls, and the support system we had at the school — sports and school,” Whelan said. “It always stayed with me.”
There are no barriers for her when it comes to qualifying for Pan Am, save for having to finish in the top three in the Canadian nationals.
“That’s my goal right now,” she said. “I have a long way to go, but I don’t think it’s unattainable.”
In the meantime, she’s grappling with what races she should run in. The 1500 is top priority for her, but Whelan says she’s waiting to see how her school work is to take on the 800m.
When she qualifies, it will be an extra-special homecoming.
Calling herself “a city girl,” she says she loves being in small town North Carolina but misses Toronto.
“I miss the big city, and it’s the culture for sure,” she said, adding Branksome is among those she misses. “I can’t wait to be home for Christmas.
“You never really understand how much support and sense of community you had with those girls until you’re off on your own in college. It really is a special place.”
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