When proposed to do a Fun Run during her junior year in high school, Cheryl Held thought nothing of it.
Already a midfielder for the Lafayette High School field hockey team in St. Louis, running was something Held could just do. So why not do it for a good cause and get some class extra credit while she was at it?
"I just ran the Fun Run and the coach from the track team was impressed with how I did and said I should come out for the track team," Held said. "And I said, "Nah, I don't think so. I mean, who runs?'"
Apparently, she does - and well. After some prodding from her father, Held relented and joined the track team and then the cross country squad in the fall of her senior year at Lafayette.
Now Held, a junior at William Woods University, sits and waits for Saturday. That is when she, along with teammates Amy Gangloff, Ryan Meyer and Jason Rose, will be competing in the NAIA National Cross Country Championships at Vancouver, Wash.
Held will be making her third straight appearance at the national championships. That's not bad for someone who didn't even think she'd run competitively, let alone do any sort of intercollegiate athletics.
"It was really a time thing," Held said of her initial reluctance about college athletics. "Grades are really important to me, so I figured that I wouldn't have any time for that.
"I'd have to be missing class to go run, but now that I've done it, I see that I can make it work."
Very few schools gave much of a thought to Held as a college runner. William Woods was one of them, though, and the school's small size and coaching staff sold her on the fact that she'd be able to effectively balance the books and her athletic obligations.
Now a year-round runner, Held admits that the adjustment to a college training regimen was a big one. More focus, more miles. But that was no bother for Held.
"I loved it, though, because I am the kind of person that the longer (the run), the better," Held said.
As a freshman runner, the segue into college running seemed to be a smooth one for her. She finished third at the American Midwest Conference championships in 2008, along with being named the conference's Freshman of the Year.
But the strain of the game caught up with Held's body. A stress fracture in her right hip ended her first outdoor track season and half of her 2009 cross country campaign. That meant five months of no running for someone who adheres to the adage of "practice how you play."
Held returned in time to qualify again for the national championships, finishing among the top 60 runners. But as her body continued to heal, and she came closer to returning to full health, her methods had to change.
"The transition was tricky at first, but it paid off in the end," William Woods head coach Daniel Radkowiec said. "It was seeing what worked for her and what worked with my training, and seeing what worked best for the both of us."
While the classroom has remained consistent with Held - a 2010 all-AMC academic honoree - a steady hand at the coaching helm has not. Held was recruited by one coach at William Woods, ran under another for her first two years and is now under the tutelage of a third, Radkowiec.
A first-year head coach who was formerly an assistant at the University of Missouri-Kansas City, Radkoweic had to impart to Held the art of recovery.
"I'm the type that likes to go hard every single day because I want to get better," Held said. "So talking to coach now, he told me that I have to take a step back some days so that my body can recover because it wasn't recovering, and I was just doing more damage to it."
Radkoweic stressed the importance of the recovery run, which keeps a competitor in shape but also helps them to mend between races. So far, so good on that front. Held was named the AMC Runner of the Year and won her first-ever conference championship two weeks ago.
"She's the hardest-working runner I have ever coached," Radkoweic said. "Her talent is untapped and it's going to be very exciting the rest of this year and next year, because I don't think she realizes how good she can become.
"It's pretty unnatural to see an athlete like Cheryl P.R. (personal record) almost every race, so that's what has made it so exciting that she is getting stronger and stronger."
Held has seemingly cut her finishes in half in her first two appearances at the national championships. According to Held, she finished between 140th and 160th in her first year and around 60th last year. All-American considerations are 30th and better.
For Held, the type that likes being the best and has done it faster than even she imagined, her goal is clear.
"I've been mentally preparing for it since outdoor track last year because I really want it, telling myself I can do it and I will do it instead of maybe it will happen," Held said. "I have to go in as it will happen and it's going to happen."