Dec. 3, 2012
Some of Kathryn Ritter’s favorite memories of Golden Gopher cross country came at the team’s annual preseason camps in Ely, Minn. She enjoyed the team bonding and the chance to run together after a summer apart. One might also suspect that part of the reason she liked those camps was that they came before the start of the school year.
Once the fall semester started, Ritter's schedule got even busier. The fifth-year senior has worked hard in the classroom as well as on the cross country course and the track. She is a pre-medical student working toward a dual degree in biology, society, and environment and genetics, cell biology, and development. She has completed the former and will finish the latter this spring.
“When I first came to the U, I knew that I was really interested in science, and I actually started taking some classes in chemistry my freshman year,” Ritter said. “Through further explorations in science classes at the U, I got interested in biology. I declared biology, society, and environment my sophomore year. I really like that major because it allows me to take those biology classes, but then there’s also a lot of freedom taking different types of classes like ethics classes and psychology. I’ve also taken an anthropology class. So that’s one thing that really drew me to that major, that there is a lot of freedom to pick and choose what you’re interested in.”
As a pre-med student, Ritter has also had to mix in volunteer experiences at local hospitals like Abbott Northwestern and Hennepin County Medical Center. Fitting in homework time around volunteering and sports would be a tall order for any student-athlete, but how about for someone who has three separate sport seasons—cross country, indoor track, and outdoor track—each year?
“The great thing about our team is that we definitely stress doing well in academics, too,” Ritter said. “So our coaches are very flexible with making sure that we’re taking the classes that we need to graduate and everything. I actually like having sports year-round because it forces me to stay organized and to work ahead in my class work and to always be on top of things and stay ahead of the game. I think that running helps me stay organized and focused for school, too.”
As a freshman, Ritter had mandatory study times at the athletic department’s McNamara Academic Center, but now she has more freedom to plan when and where she does her school work. Oftentimes, she will do homework on plane or bus rides to and from meets.
Even with her intense academic load and two-plus years of volunteering experience, Ritter has managed to stay competitive in athletics. She has raced at the Big Ten Championships in track and vied for a spot on the Gophers’ Big Ten cross country roster as well.
“I think that a big way to be competitive in running is to make sure that you have balance in your life,"
she said. “Our coach talks about the 'zone of discipline' all the time. Yes, you have your time where you’re at practice and you’re competing hard and you’re preparing for competitions, but then you also have your time where you’re studying, and also downtime where you give yourself time to relax and spend time socializing with family and friends.”
Ritter will compete in both indoor and outdoor track during the 2013 season. She hopes to be as competitive as possible, and to simply enjoy the rest of her time with her teammates. Next fall, she will begin medical school. She has interviewed with a handful of schools and has already been accepted at the University of Iowa. Emergency medicine is currently her main interest, but she looks forward to gaining new experience in other areas of the field.
Her path has not been an easy one, but it has been worthwhile. Ritter is happy with the choices she made about her college career. She offered advice to any high school athletes who may be nervous about taking on both athletics and tough academics.
“I would reassure them that it’s definitely possible and they can do it,” she said. “That was one of my big concerns when I was thinking about running in college and balancing the type of academic path that I was looking at pursuing, but especially with the coaches we have here, there’s a ton of people here who are willing to help you and support you throughout your collegiate journey through running and academics. I would encourage them to accept the challenge and do it, because it’s definitely been a great experience here at the U for me.”