Rachel Levy set a school record in the women’s 6K in her first-ever collegiate meet.


Winter 2016

|  by Fritz Reznor

Taking a Big First Step

Cross-training helps freshman to a stellar cross country season

Rachel Levy had a remarkable season for the Golden Grizzlies' cross country team.

In her first-ever collegiate meet, she set a school record in the women’s 6K. She earned First Team All-Horizon League to help the Golden Grizzlies win the league championship and was voted the Horizon League Freshman of the Year. At the NCAA Great Lakes Regional meet, Levy was Oakland’s top finisher.

And she only competed in three races.

The freshman from Midland, Michigan, missed the Golden Grizzlies’ first four meets of the 2015 season due to tendinitis in her left Achilles tendon. As late as October, Levy considered taking a medical redshirt ending her freshman year, but retained her eligibility for the next four years. When her injury healed by midseason, she faced a decision to  compete in Oakland’s few remaining meets or opt to redshirt and gain an extra year of eligibility.

“The major deciding factor for both of us was when she said, ‘I want to do whatever you want me to do to help us win a championship,’" Oakland head cross country coach Paul Rice recalled.

"It came down to her making herself available for the team," he said. "She’s very unselfish. I knew she was probably the best freshman in the Horizon League. I felt we were probably going to win the league championship with or without her, but we’d like to do it with her and give her that experience as a freshman to be part of a championship.

Obviously, we made the right decision, because she had a great season with the races she ran.”

Levy decided to test her foot in Oakland’s 3K dual meet with Central Michigan on October 9. Running unattached so as not to jeopardize her eligibility, Levy not only felt fine ― she won the race.

“It was pretty exciting,” Levy said, “and definitely a confidence-booster. After that race, I decided not to redshirt. I’m definitely glad that I made the decision to race.”

The week after the short-course race, Levy competed in her first collegiate meet at the Bradley Pink Classic. Running a 6K for the first time, she finished 13th overall and set a school record with a time of 20:58.7.

At the Horizon League Championship two weeks later, she took fourth place and earned First Team all-league and Freshman of the Year honors. She capped her season by placing 48th in the Great Lakes Regional, tops among Oakland runners.

Rachel Levy was voted the Horizon League Freshman of the Year.

Levy continued her sensational rookie year into the Golden Grizzlies’ indoor track season. She set a new school record in her first-ever intercollegiate 3,000-meter run on January 30 at the Saginaw Valley State University Jet’s Pizza Invitational, winning the race with a time of 9:44.03 and breaking the previous mark by nearly four full seconds.

What makes Levy’s immediate success even more impressive was her unorthodox training method. Injuries suffered in her high school sophomore and senior years limited her ability to compete.

Unable to run, Levy undertook physical therapy consisting of cross-training: swimming, riding a bike and lifting weights. She bounced back and had a breakout season her senior year in outdoor track, earning All-State honors by finishing sixth at the state meet in Division I in the mile run and 12th in the two-mile run.

“She was kind of under the radar because of her injuries in high school,” Rice said. “I thought we had someone who could be a solid No. 4 or No. 5 for us. I figured she would make her way into the top five, but I wasn’t expecting that her first race out she would be our top runner.”

When Levy injured her Achilles tendon during Oakland’s pre-season training, she again turned to cross-training to stay in shape. She continued that routine as she gradually began running with the team again, although her weekly mileage was far less than that of her teammates.

“She’s a very unique kid,” Rice said. “Because she had done so much cross-training in high school, she knows her body and she knows what she needs. And she took it upon herself to make up all of her own workouts ― she got in the pool, got on the bikes. All of her workouts were self-designed, and she knows how to push her body.”

Her injury notwithstanding, Rice likens Levy’s freshman year to that of former Golden Grizzly
Kristie Kieffer (1999-2003), regarded as the best runner Oakland has ever had. Like Levy, Kieffer finished fourth as a freshman at the league championship meet. Kieffer went on to become a two-time league champion and the only national qualifier in school history.

“I would compare Rachel to Kristie in that she came in and made such a huge impact her first year,” Rice said. “Rachel has the potential to be an NCAA qualifier and someone capable of being a conference champion.”

And perhaps Levy’s next steps will be even bigger than her first.

Fritz Reznor is a freelance writer from Pleasant Ridge, Michigan.

Horizon women's track champs