Progress is Impossible Without Change: My Years with the Running Club at Ohio State – Erica Kelly

Progress is Impossible Without Change: My Years with the Running Club at Ohio State – Erica Kelly

This blog is a great way to connect with other Club members by sharing personal experiences. After reading the legendary Doug Hange’s post, I realized that it’s also a fun way to document the history of Running Club. I hope to accomplish a little of both, and it’s going to require a lot of words, so I’m aware that only those who know me or would like to learn about the club’s last five years will read to the end. I thank John Lin for offering me the opportunity to document my experiences with the Running Club at Ohio State; I will look back at this like a journal entry in the future.

To set the scene, you should know that the Running Club members witnessed a great transformation between roughly 2010 and 2013, and it’s still ongoing.

From what I have been told, the Running Club at OSU was always a very social, casual running group. In 2010, when I was a freshman, a handful of men competed in only one cross country meet. The girls did not compete in any. I joined Running Club in Winter 2011 when I heard that men AND women were going to compete at an indoor track meet, the Illinois Club Relays. Coming out of a year of IT Band injury and a freshman quarter of overeating at North Commons, I went to my first indoor track workout. Brittany Holloway and Jenna Hoersten took me under their wing, and I absolutely destroyed myself to try to keep up with them. (I think everyone’s true induction into Running Club involves coming to a workout or run totally unprepared, destroying their legs and lungs, and coming back anyway.) Chasing down Jenna and Brittany was motivating. The girls were fun and welcoming, and the traditional, quirky Ice Breaker made meeting other members easy. I rode with Brittany, Jenna, Jessica McManus and Kate Kessler to that first meet, and we had a blast. This was the start of my collegiate running career.

After a 2011 spring season consisting of only three track meets, two of which I attended (Illinois Club Relays and outdoor NIRCA Track Nationals), I was high on the idea that I could still compete and improve my running even though I didn’t attend a D3 school. (Isn’t that one of the most magical things about Running Club?) The President at the time was the kind and focused Mike Shah, who previously had saved the club with his dedication and organizational skills at a time when leadership was lacking. Mike Shah worked to recreate structure and leadership, and provided some of the first opportunities for members to compete in NIRCA cross country. I was elected to be a “Run Leader” my sophomore year, and I knew I had found my niche at OSU.
Winter Fair '12

For the 2011-2012 school year, the club had exactly 39 official members according the roster that I have. So on a good day, we would have about fifteen people at a run. My understanding is that Fall of 2011 is the first time the Running Club at OSU took a decent-sized team of both men and women to several cross country meets, including The MC5, NIRCA Regionals and NIRCA Nationals. I attribute this to the efforts of Silis Jiang, the proficient and influential President succeeding Mike Shah. Silis was in a great position to implement a stronger competitiveness in the club, which really started the transformation that many of you have seen and are experiencing.

NIRCA Regionals 2011


In Winter of 2012, I was attending many D3 indoor meets to cheer for my now fiancé, Andrew, who ran for Otterbein University. His parents brought to my attention that I could sign up “unattached” to race in those meets too. This was a light bulb moment for me which I think opened many doors for the club. During announcements at the next indoor track workout, I spoke about how I was going to sign up to race the mile at The Capital Classic 2012, and that others should consider doing so with me. A handful of members joined me, and I ran about two seconds shy of my high school PR. Many of us fit right in with the competition. We were pumped.

That Spring of 2012, I was honored to be elected President. That Fall, I emailed D3 coaches left and right and gained permission to sign up our new “team” for a full cross country season, including a couple of club meets (which are harder to come by due to funding) and as many D3 collegiate meets as we could fit into our schedule.

IF Board Fall '12

At our Fall Involvement Fair, the girls made an awesome board which advertised “TRACK AND FIELD,” “CROSS COUNTRY,” and “MARATHON” in big, bold letters, to show the breadth of what we finally were. Silis Jiang suggested that we offer two-tiered membership, so that social members who just wanted to run for fun didn’t have to pay as much as competitive members who would be attending costly races. Membership skyrocketed to 119 official members that fall. Thanks to my whole variety of running buddies, I trained and ran within three seconds of my 5k PR at our first cross country meet and then ran a career PR in the Columbus Half Marathon. “We Run It All” became our logo, and it was no lie! I went on to place 4th in the 1500 at NIRCA Track Nationals and then ran my PR of 4:59 in the 1500m in our final D3 meet of the season. That was my peak of fitness to this day.
Girls 4x400

I was reelected President in Spring of 2013, and we did it all again that year with 95 members – but this time the officers strove to foster the social side of the club some more. The officers planned a trip to Gatlinburg, Tennessee, and we had a BLAST. I will never forget the bear in our mountainous backyard that we all took selfies with. When it started climbing onto one of our multiple patios, I freaked – running around to make sure everyone was back inside, like someone would get mauled and that it would be my fault. Anyway, the girls placed better than ever at Cross Country Nationals, and both men and women scored well at D3 and club meets all season. Spring Track 2014 was successful as well, and a group even went on a fun Spring Break trip to Myrtle Beach.


Killer The Bear '13
This is where my story with Running Club comes to a very abrupt halt. Some of you may know that I was not able to compete during my senior year. My last race was the first XC meet, Otterbein Invitational 2013, where I “hit the wall” far too early in the race and just knew that something was going wrong with my body. Ambiguous injuries and pains kept me out all of cross country. When indoor track started, so did my migrating pains, “dead arm,” sore hips, etc. – all of which I referred to as the “Itis.” My strange, elusive pains worsened and eventually I was hardly making it to meets to call out splits. Then I couldn’t make it to class. Then I was diagnosed with Leukemia.

Getting cancer was God’s solid plan to tear me apart from Running Club, because letting it go on my own would have been too difficult. Luckily, ambitious, super-friendly, and newly elected President John Lin was prepared to take on the role at a moment’s notice. I continued to write the Sunday newsletter once or twice while I was in the James Cancer Hospital, but then a chemo drug caused me to get a blood clot in my brain and I had seizures and a mini-stroke. I remember the night that John Lin texted me and asked if I was still going to write the Newsletter. By then I was so out of it, I could only bring myself to reply, “Too sick.” John fluently took over the Presidency without a blink and things went on to flourish without me, as they continue to this day. I graduated and am taking a cancer-induced year off before medical school. Meanwhile, the club is taking record numbers of competitive athletes to meets. Some even compete at OSU’s indoor meet against some real collegiate D1 and D2 studs. Some are heading to the Boston Marathon in a month. They are outstanding.


It is tempting to say that the most rewarding part of Running Club was watching it grow. But I know that truly, it is the friendships and good times that I cherish the most. I have refrained from using so many names here, because I could go on forever. I only mentioned my own running achievements that meant something to me just to prevent this from becoming a novel about how inspired I was by my teammates and their unbelievable accomplishments and awesome personalities. These are the people that were my real friends in college. These are the people who came to my bedside. The people who took a ping-pong paddle with a picture of my face taped on it to Track Nationals so I could be in all of the pictures. The people who won the “Heart and Soul Award” at the OSU Relay for life because they did not ONCE stop running for me.
Erica Face at Nats '13

And as soon as I get the strength back to run again, I will run for all of you, my friends, my teammates, and this wonderful club.


Erica Kelly
President, 2012-2014

OSURC Team Pic Fall 2013