GVSU senior Foley looks forward to final run at nationals

GVL / Courtesy - Alan Steible
Kendra Foley runs during the NCAA Midwest Regional Championship in Evansville, IN on Saturday, Nov. 5, 2016.

Alan Steible

GVL / Courtesy - Alan Steible Kendra Foley runs during the NCAA Midwest Regional Championship in Evansville, IN on Saturday, Nov. 5, 2016.

Danny Schwartz

Grand Valley State senior Kendra Foley’s first memory of running was in the fourth grade, when she and her mother decided to participate in a half-marathon. Foley remembers herself and her mother running a single mile and having to take a break, then running another mile and having to take another break.

A slow beginning like that turned into something huge, as 12 years later, Foley is one of the best runners in the nation.

Foley is preparing for her final nationals meet Nov. 19 in St. Leo, Florida, and is hoping to end her college cross country career with a championship.

Foley’s skills and accolades have come from years of work and determination, but also because of her self-professed lack of any other hand-eye coordination skills.

“I’m afraid of the ball, so that took out half of other sports or activities I could be involved in,” Foley said. “So I kind of just landed on running, figured out pretty quickly I was good at it, and decided to keep with it.”

Foley visited GVSU in the summer before her freshman year and met with GVSU coach Jerry Baltes.

“This was the only program where they thought I would be a really big help,” Foley said. “I looked at a lot of DI schools but they didn’t really see a lot of potential in me besides letting me on the team. Here at GVSU, they felt that I could make a really big difference and improve a lot.”

Now a senior, Foley has zero regrets about coming to GVSU. Foley said in her eyes, Division I athletics are more a job than a sport.

Foley has racked up a laundry list of accolades in her GVSU career. She was on national championship teams with GVSU in 2013 and 2014, winning the individual title at the 2014 NCAA Division II National Championship with a time of 21:05.8, and was named the 2014 NCAA Division II National Women’s Athlete of the Year. She was recently named the 2016 GLIAC Women’s Athlete of the Year.

Foley is also a three-time USTFCCCA All-American, three-time USTFCCCA All-Region and three-time First Team All-GLIAC. She is actually, in total, a 10-time All-American, counting her track honors.

Foley is double-majoring in communications and sport leadership, but is not set on what she wants to do after this year. Foley has thought about working for companies like Nike and Adidas, but she’s recently thought about coaching college cross country.

Foley describes herself as an extremely competitive person, and her competitive nature manifests itself in running.

“I hate to lose more than I like to win,” Foley said. “I think because cross country is a team sport, I do better because I’m not just doing it for me. I’m competitive and strive to win so the whole team can score, not just me, and I really like wearing the GV on my chest and I take a lot of pride in that.”

As far as her biggest moment of her career, Foley believes that while winning the individual national championship in 2014 was huge, the whole team did something that day in Louisville that had never been done before: GVSU went first, second and third at the meet. Foley was the first-place finisher, while GVSU runners Allyson Winchester and Jess Janecke were the second and third-place finishers, respectively.

“After I crossed the finish line in first, I turned around and saw two of my teammates coming in second and third, and that had never been done before,” she said. “It was a great moment.”

Foley just recently picked up another accolade, winning the 2016 GLIAC Women’s Athlete of the Year award.

“It’s an honor, because I know there’s so many other hard-working people in the GLIAC,” Foley said. “In competing with them for the past four years, I’ve become friends with them and we all respect each other, but it’s still a feat to be proud of.”

Foley will be even more driven to bring home a national championship in her final season, which is quickly approaching.

“With this being my final year, winning the national championship really sparks my motivation,” Foley said.

It won’t be a cakewalk for GVSU to win, because they’re second best overall on a national level, but winning a national championship in Foley’s final year would mean the world to her.

Reflecting on her past four years at GVSU, Foley believes the one thing that she has improved on is her confidence.

“I usually cry before every national meet because I’m so nervous,” Foley said. “Sometimes you get too focused on the sport and you just have to remember you’re having fun with your teammates, and I think I’ve improved in regard to having the mindset where I don’t take it too seriously.”

Foley wants to be remembered as more than just the girl that scored well in her races or for her accolades. The legacy Foley would like to leave is being a hard worker and a good teammate.

“I lost at nationals last year. I got second place and lost by .03 seconds, and if I would’ve won it wouldn’t have changed anything,” she said. “I’d still be the person that I am, and I’d still have the same future ahead of me.”

Being a teammate and roommate of Foley’s, Alex McBride knows her more than most, and knows what makes her who she is.

“She has a lot of natural talent, but beyond that, she really buys into and connects with the training and lifestyle as a whole,” McBride said. “Kendra gets plenty of sleep, eats right, does extra core work and she really focuses on the whole process.”

McBride also credits Foley as being a great leader, and one that leads by example, as people see her putting in extra effort and it encourages them to do so as well. Even beyond that, Foley is an inviting person and fun to be around, so people feel comfortable coming to her and talking to her about issues they might have, McBride said.

Coach Baltes describes Foley as feisty, competitive and a little stubborn.

“When the gun goes off, she’s nothing but focused and tough,” Baltes said. “She has a way of digging deep, putting her head down and always getting the job done. And when Kendra sets her mind to something, she’s going to get it done.”

Baltes also credits Foley as being not only a leader, but a positive leader, as when teammate Gina Patterson injured her foot and found out she was likely out for the rest of the season, Foley was one of the first people to support her and be there for her.

Baltes believes that when it’s all said and done, Foley will be remembered as one of the greats in Laker athletics.

“She’s certainly at the top of the charts in career history,” Baltes said. “Finishing ninth as a freshman, winning an individual national championship as a sophomore and finishing second place last year. As long as Kendra goes out and does her thing next week at nationals, she’ll probably be remembered as the best female cross country runners in our program’s history.”