Legacies. It’s what every athlete dreams of having, and what they hope to leave behind when their time is done. College athletes hope they are able to leave a legacy for at least a few years. For two senior runners, their legacy will last a lifetime, and in their final race as college athletes, they ran it for each other.
Friday, Nov. 22, Vancouver, Wash. — The golden sun beamed over the bright green grass, the light blue sky showed no spots for clouds and a slight breeze swept through the open air. In other words, it was a perfect day for racing.
Dickinson State cross country runners Lisa Townsend and Jacey Wilson prepared to lead the top-notch Blue Hawks’ cross country team in the NAIA national competition. The team had been in this competition for five consecutive years, and the two seniors wanted everyone, including junior male runner Hunter Flynn, to just give it their all, have fun and run like it was the final race.
Flynn would run first and finished with his best race at the NAIA meet with a time of 27:41.9, 35 seconds quicker than his previous time as a first-year, a very successful run. After his race, it was time for the women’s team.
The Blue Hawks got prepared for the race. All the hard work, long practices, and extra runs came down to this moment, this race. There was only a handful of them among 341 total runners. It didn’t matter. They had one goal in mind: Give the race everything they possibly could. When the gun went off, it was time to go. They were ready.
For Wilson and Townsend, with each step emotions filled their lungs almost as much as the crisp air.
“People were screaming, ‘you have one mile left, you have 800 meters left, you have 500 meters left,’ and what was going through my head the whole time is ‘I have a mile left of my last race ever. I have an 800 meter left of the last race ever. I mean that was the only thing that was going through my head,” Wilson said.
What helped them get through it? Simple. The two seniors, together. One last time.
“I was running for Lisa that day,” Wilson said. “The start of the race I went up to her and I told her ‘I’m running for you today,’ and she said the same back to me, that she was running for me.”
The two elite runners have been competing side by side since the very beginning. Their hard work and efforts have truly helped the team. Even as sophomores in 2017, Wilson came in second at the NSAA and Townsend at eighth to help the team clinch its third consecutive NSAA title. And in 2018, along with clinching its fourth consecutive title, Townsend placed fifth, Emily Kuhen came in seventh and Wilson in ninth out of 50 total runners to help the team earn 50 total points, downing No. 17 Montana Western and No. 22 Carrol College. Throughout the course of their careers, these two runners have been truly leading the team and helping motivate their teammates.
“Throughout the last four years I’ve been with her, I mean she has been my rock. We’ve been battling together for four years. Wwe’ve been busting out great workouts and great meets, and I wouldn’t want to do it with anybody else,” Wilson said.
Townsend felt the same way about Wilson and her ability to keep her motivated, especially in the final race of the year, and their careers.
“We just knew we were going to put it all on the line, and that’s who me and Jayce are as athletes is that we put it out on the line and know that was for each other and for our teammates and for the university.
“Just in general I think that going into that last race, we’re lucky because we knew that it was our last race … So I think that really helps you put it all on the line and really put everything in perspective like that ‘this was it,’” Townsend said.
Townsend was motivated to succeed well before the season began, preparing in the early stages of summer 2019, preparing to claim the NSAA title, and she also worked hard to get her team to clinch the NSAA title for the fifth consecuitive year and take the team to Washington.
“This year, coming into it, I had a lot of goals not only for myself, but for my team, and that’s kind of what I put into my leadership is I knew what outcome I wanted, personally, and I know the outcome I wanted for my team, so that helped me lead them every day in practice because I knew we were working towards a goal and I knew I was working towards a goal as well,” she said.
In the end, Townsend was named multiple NSAA Women’s Runner of the Week throughout the season, rallied back to place first at the NSAA championships with a time of 20:12.4, followed by Wilson with a fourth-place finish with a time of 20:18.8. The hard work by the two seniors, and the rest of the Blue Hawks, pushed the team to be co-champs with Dakota State, bringing the team to Washington for the NAIA nationals and Townsend was able to not only succeed in her goals, but go above and beyond what was expected, just like a true leader.
At nationals, the team would finish 32nd overall. Wilson would be the leader of the team, placing 106th with a time of 19:29.8. Townsend would arrive shortly after with a 208th finish with a 20:09.5 time, just missing Wilson.
The two elite runners finished the race the way they always did — together, putting their hearts and soles into each and every push. Even for the underclassmen, such as junior Bailey Smith, sophomore Emily Kuehn and first-years Sarah Griffis and Haylie Oberlander, it was an emotional sight, knowing that the two hardworking seniors were the first two to put DSU on the board and help them place 32nd as a team. Both seniors were very proud of each of their teammates for their hard work at the NAIA meet, as well as Hunter Flynn's performance as well.
“Seeing the underclassmen cry at the sight of, you know, us leaving and finishing our last race, it’s very tough,” Wilson said.
In spite of everything Townsend and Wilson have done in their careers, their hard work, their drive to get better, to compete, they ran each race like it was their last. Because once it was their final race, on Nov. 22, they proved to 341 runners they were two historical runners from Dickinson State University.
If there’s anything Townsend and Wilson were able to prove to DSU, the NSAA and the NAIA throughout their careers and at nationals in 2019, the only way to be successful as a team, and individually, is through hard work, strong effort, targeting your goals and running toward them.
Now that’s a legacy to remember.