The transfer from IU has become one of the top female runners in the NAIA.

By Laura Caicedo, Staff Writer

Spring starts, but so does track season for Hannah Stoffel, junior exercise science major. She recently finished first in the individual NAIA women’s cross-country national championship with a time of 17:18.4 on the 5k – 16 seconds ahead from the second runner-up, making her the first Forester to ever get that title.

Stoffel was named “runner of the week” five times. She was also awarded “women’s athlete of the year” by the U.S. Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association (USTFCCCA). The USTFCCCA also named Stoffel “Great Lakes region athlete of the year,” which is only given to five females across the country based on region.

Looking to fine-tune her training and build on the strong foundation she laid during the fall cross-country season, Stoffel is excited to push through the training this season.

“When you start to struggle in workouts and all you want to do is slow down or quit, you’re given the choice to either fight through it or to give in,” Stoffel said.

Stoffel is new to the Forester family but not to the Huntington community. A 2016 HNHS graduate, Stoffel transferred from Indiana University last fall after having to take a redshirt for track her freshman year. After improving, she had to sit down because of injuries. 

“I felt like something wasn’t right, or something was missing, and the time away from being able to race gave me a lot of time to reflect on what my priorities were,” Stoffel said. “At the end of my junior year, I announced that I was going to transfer, and then a couple months later I decided I would transfer to HU.”

After coming back home last fall, Stoffel has seen significant improvement, not only with running but also academically and emotionally. Transitioning into a different team dynamic, a different training plan, and a different educational setup could have been stressful. But Stoffel attributes the smooth transition to her coaches, teammates, friends and professors.

Her grandparents have been an important pillar in her running career as well.

“My [grandparents] unconditional support, whether I run well or not, has taught me that running is about more than just the time on the clock when I finish, because running is about more than just myself,” Stoffel said. “I’ve had success because I’ve been so well-supported and so encouraged.”

After cross-country nationals last year, she was able to see that support and encouragement firsthand. Her classmates asked her how she did, and her professors wished her the best. But the thing she remembers the most is something her coach, Nick Johnson, said to her.

“[He] said that no matter what the outcome of the race was, he was proud of me,” Stoffel said. “It reminded me that there was more to the race than winning.”

By winning, Stoffel said, she could honor all of those people who invested so much time and encouragement into her. And that is what she did.

 “As I’ve matured as an athlete this past year,” Stoffel said, “my outlook has changed from feeling the need to prove myself, to just enjoying the ability to compete and do something I love surrounded by people I love.”

She added that it’s easy to get sick or injured and not be able to compete to her fullest potential. 

“I’m just grateful for every day that I get to run with healthy legs and the ability to work hard.”