Sept. 28, 2009
Sophomore Rachel Velarde made a major impact on the Irish women's cross country squad as a freshman a year ago. She competed in six races and earned a fifth-place finish at the National Catholic Championships. She finished 34th at both the BIG EAST meet and Great Lakes Regional, before crossing the line in 155th at the NCAA Championships. In her only race this season, the Albuquerque, N.M., native finished fifth at the National Catholic Championship. Velarde sat down with UND.com to tell us a little more about herself.
1. Why did you decide to attend Notre Dame?
I visited a lot of other schools, but when I came here I felt the most at home and everyone was just so accepting. The team and campus were awesome, even though I came in January and it was freezing. Right when I came here I knew I wanted to be here.
2. What are your personal goals for the upcoming season?
I want to stay healthy, improve my fitness and do the best that I can to help out our team. We have an amazing team this year, and I just want to do my part.
3. Do you have any pre or post-race rituals?
I'm a pretty superstitious person. I always have the same warm-up routine; I always listen to the same playlist on my iPod before I race; I always go through the same motions. It's all just very re-assuring to know it's all going to be okay. I do things the same way, stretch the same way, and right before I race I always say a prayer to keep my mind focused.
4. Who did you look up to for inspiration when you were growing up?
I'd have to say my aunt. My aunt was an athlete; she played basketball for a Division I school. She's always been there and pushing me, and she's my biggest fan. When I'm having a bad day she is always ready to give me advice or inspiration, and when I'm having a good day she would be there supporting me.
5. Do you have a favorite course?
I really enjoyed the BIG EAST course in Van Cortland Park in New York. It had a flat section and a hilly section; it just had it all.
6. What is the most difficult part of balancing academics with athletics?
Obviously, this is a very tough academic school, and the timing is difficult to deal with. After class you go straight to practice and after practice you go straight to dinner, so usually I can't start studying until about 7:00 p.m. It's hard to find time to study, especially if you want to go to office hours because they're generally during practice. You really have to work with professors to get the help that you need.
7. What do you do to relax after a race?
After races we go out to dinner as a team or we do something team oriented. Usually I like to hang out with everyone else after a race and just have a good time. I end up going to bed early after a race though because I'm so tired.
8. What else are you involved with at Notre Dame?
I try to get involved with extracurricular activities in my dorm (Walsh Hall). It's difficult to become involved in other things because, it's hard enough trying to deal with academics and athletics. The athletic department here offers some great community service opportunities and I try to jump on those whenever I can.
9. What are you studying here?
I'm studying psychology in the Arts & Letters Pre-Professional program. I love psychology and I just switched to pre-med, so we'll see how that goes.
10. Do you have a favorite professor or class so far?
I really enjoyed a lot of my classes last year. I loved my introduction to psychology class (taught by Anre Venter and G.A. Radvansky), which really got me going into psychology. I also like ecology and evolution with Kenneth Filchak; it was a really interesting class.
11. What do you hope to accomplish after graduation?
I'm going to some type of graduate school for sure, possibly physical therapy if it works out that way. I just want to come out with a degree and a good job and get out into the real world.
12. What was the toughest adjustment coming from New Mexico to Indiana?
It definitely was the weather. I first visited here in January, and I came here with these, thin cotton gloves and thought I would be fine with that. Then the first weekend it was about minus-36, and I called my mom asking her to send warm stuff because I was freezing. Definitely the weather was the hardest adjustment.
13. How did it help you having two sisters who ran collegiate track?
Our family is very competitive, and we've just always had running. It's nice to have sisters who have been through the same thing as I have and can really provide me with a lot of advice. I'll call them up if I've had a bad work out or a bad day. Last season I was injured so I would call them up, and they've been injured, so they could really help me get through the bad days and still know how to be a teammate.
14. What activities besides running do you enjoy?
I just like hanging out with my friends. I like shopping. I really like being outdoors, but I also enjoy watching movies, too.
15. Do you have favorite music to listen to while you run?
While I'm running I don't listen to music. I would, but the ear-buds don't fit my ears so they usually end up falling out in the middle and I get frustrated and just throw my iPod off. For pre-race though, way before the race I listen to calm music because I get pretty nervous, so I just try to relax. But then right before I listen to a lot of pump-up music; pretty much anything, a mix of country, pop, rap, and hip-hop. I like to encompass everything.
16. What is the most important advice you've gotten from a coach?
The most important thing is that running is an important part of your life, but you can't let it take over your life. You need to balance athletics, academics, and your social life. It is hard and you need to make sacrifices to be an athlete and sacrifices for your academics, so sometimes you don't get the social life, but you need to balance it and not let one aspect rule your life.
17. What was your favorite memory of freshman year?
My favorite running memory would be the team going to nationals last year. It was an amazing experience and it was one of the best weekends I've ever had, running-wise. The race didn't go the way I wanted it to but it was so great to build off. For non-running I would have to say all the different dorm stuff we had, like the SYRs and the formals; I think those are so much fun. Honestly though, just being here everyday is amazing, I wake up and see the Dome and the lakes, and I just think it's awesome.
18. As a sophomore, what advice would you give to freshman runners this year?
Take care of yourself ... not just running but making smart decision overall. Making smart decisions outside of practice and staying healthy, because you can get injured and be out for the season. As long as you try your best to do the little things you can be the best athlete you want to be.
19. When looking back on your Notre Dame career 10 years from now, what do you want to remember?
As a student, the education here is amazing, but I'll just remember the experience, the tradition. I want to be able to come back here for a football game and show everyone around the campus and show them this is where I went to school. I'm very proud of my school and I want to be sure to take everything I can out of this experience. It's only four years, so I want to make the most of it.
20. What is your favorite spot on campus?
I have way too many favorite spots. It would probably either be at the Grotto or down by the lakes. I also love being over on the Saint Mary's trails where we run. I love the deep trails over there; they're just beautiful.