When Molly Seidel lined up at the University of Wisconsin-Parkside cross country course for the start of her sophomore season in 2009, she already had one state title under her belt for University Lake High School. The finish of the Angel Invitational on this September day would tell a lot of people not only about how good a runner she was, but what type of person she was.
Coach Mike Dolan sets the stage. “The experience starts with just knowing the person and my experience started when she was a 5th grader, and I saw her running the mile in PE class and doing an awesome job with a smile on her face. The beauty of Molly is that she runs for the fun of it and she runs because she knows she is going to learn something about something about herself. She competes against herself.”
The results on that day at Parkside do not have Molly Seidel listed as the winner as many would have expected. She did cross the line in first-place, having run 14:06 for 4 kilometers -- the third-fastest time ever on that course at the time and 23 seconds ahead of the second-place finisher Jenna McMiller of Waukesha North. After crossing the finish line, she put her hands over her head in exhaustion. While doing so she revealed that she had her shorts rolled up, resulting in a disqualification. Her reaction: “She didn't know she couldn't do that,” Coach Dolan remembers. “There were no tears, no foul words, no pity party, just simply a ‘I know now I did something wrong and won’t do it again,’ but she knew she ran a good race.”
About a minute after the disqualification occurred, a freshman on her team told her to tell the officials she rolled them down after she crossed the finish line -- to which Seidel reacted by telling the freshman that she wouldn't do that because it’s dishonest.
“It puts into perspective just what type of person she is,” recalls Dolan. “If that’s the way she reacts to a stumbling block like that, she could do anything. She was sending out the signals as a 15 year old that she has what it takes, not only with her times, but more importantly with the whole mind/body thing. She has control over her mind during the race and has control over her emotions. That's something we see a lot of, runners not able to control that emotional factor. They may be mentally tough, but they aren’t emotionally tough. After that race, it was something that she proved she had.”
Indeed she did go on to succeed, finishing up her senior year by winning her fourth Wisconsin State Cross Country Championship, matching the feat accomplished only by Stevens Point legend Suzy Favor Hamilton in the 1980s.
Winning the 2011 Foot Locker Midwest Regional, as she did on Nov. 26 in 17:08, was another sign of overcoming difficulties. Coming into the race as one of the favorites in 2010, Seidel ended up finishing 11th, just missing a trip to San Diego, and had to take a significant amount of time off afterwards due to an injury. “It was very hard last year. It was definitely a driving (motivational) force this past year. I know I wanted to come back and redeem myself.”
Seidel began her path to redemption last winter and spring with wins at the Wisconsin indoor state meet 1600, and followed up similarly in both the 1600 and 3200 at the Wisconsin outdoor state meet. She set her sights on the national scene in the post season. She repeated at the Midwest Distance Gala with a win in the mile (4:47.94). From there, she moved on the bigger things at the New Balance Outdoor Nationals where she finished 3rd in the mile (4:46.08) and 5th in the 2-mile (10:20.59) – both PRs.
Those performances validated Seidel as a national performer. She has been ranked #2 much of the season in the ESPNHS/Dyestat Top 25. She has lived up to that billing, having won state for the fourth year in a row, setting an “unofficial” state record (the course had been altered due to weather), and ran a Wisconsin all-time best for 4 kilometers with 13:10.08 at the St. John's Northwestern Invite.
But during her high school career, Siedel has shown what type of well-rounded person she is by helping her school to a Wisconsin State Downhill Ski Championship in 2010, and a 3rd-place finish last winter. She also participates in competitive sailing in the summers for the Inland Yachting Association.
“I get to pursue other interests,” she says. “I’m not just a runner. I get to be a lot of different things and that’s one thing that's great about our school. I am able to play on the field hockey team during cross country (she only got to play in one game after having played varsity right wing for the past two years). There are so many opportunities, because it is such a small school. Everybody at our school is pushed to do their best, our teachers push us a lot in the classroom, and it is what’s expected of us. We are pushed to excel in everything we do.
“I was into downhill skiing starting at 2 years old, and I began racing at 6 years old. Running was one of the last sports I got involved with.”
Seidel has made the decision not to downhill ski this winter in order to prevent injuries, but will be helping the team as a student-coach. While doing that, Seidel plans on a lot of cross country skiing. “I think it helps a lot (doing other sports) with not getting burned out and by cross training.”
But Seidel is not only an athlete. She carries a straight-A average at the highly academic University Lake, nailed a perfect score on the English portion of the ACT, and holds a 34 composite. “I’ve always been kind of a nerd. I take my studies very seriously. I love reading and I just really love school.”
What else? In addition to playing piano, ukulele, and violin (the latter horribly, she admits) she spends time every winter and spring volunteering at a soup kitchen in Milwaukee.
“My parents always thought I would go (to college) on an academic scholarship, then the running thing just kind of came up.”
The senior has already visited Georgetown, Stanford, Harvard, Notre Dame, and Duke, but yet has not made a college decision. A diehard Green Bay Packer and Wisconsin Badger fan, she has considered running for the Badgers, just 45 minutes away from home, but thinks she may opt to go away for school.
Seidel manages to balance all of these things in her life. “Sometimes it feels a little overwhelming, but it is good preparation for college and definitely worth it. I try to get all my work done without a lot of procrastinating. I still have a social life and I still get to go out and have fun. There's no use in doing all of this if you can't get out and enjoy it. I always try to get 7-8 hours of sleep a night. It's been very hard this fall (with the addition of recruiting), but I've gotten very good at buckling down and getting all my work done.”
In terms of her future, Seidel is much focused. “I have to have a life after running. I would love to go to medical school one day and become a doctor.”
Seidel has high expectations of herself at the Foot Locker Finals this week in San Diego, and would like to add to her already impressive resume. “I expect a lot of myself and I love doing what I do. I push myself because it’s not a chore, it’s something I enjoy. I know what I’m capable of. Anything less than that and I feel disappointed.”
Disappointed, sure. But whatever happens, expect Seidel to have the same emotional toughness she showed three years ago and the perspective of someone whose life stretches well beyond the XC course. That’s what she’s capable of, too.