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Grace Barnett Primed for Senior Cross Country Season

Grace Barnett Primed for Senior Cross Country Season

“It truly has been a dream come true for me.”

A sincere, virtually automatic response when asked how she would best describe her experience as a track athlete at Clemson University, senior cross country runner Grace Barnett’s reply is both genuine and oozing with complexity.

While it may seem like a cliché reply that any college athlete would utter in response to the aforementioned question, Barnett’s progression as a cross country runner does indeed have a dream-like quality to it, as it is almost too good to be true.

Now a senior leader on the women’s cross country squad, Barnett has progressed exponentially since starting her collegiate career. Although she was a two-time state runner-up in cross country while in high school, according to Barnett, she worried that her times were not good enough to compete at any college or university, let alone one with the athletics acumen of Clemson.

A highly versatile athlete, Barnett also runs for Clemson’s indoor and outdoor track teams, and she will still have another year of eligibility remaining for both of those sports in 2018 due to previous redshirts. But the fall of 2016 marks the end Barnett’s college cross country career, and she hopes that it will be her best season yet. Originally a walk-on for the Tigers, Barnett has long since completely shed the status, earning All-ACC honors as a junior this past season.

Barnett is quick to downplay her impressive cross country skillset, insisting that head track & field coach Mark Elliott and cross country coach Michael Porter are to thank for her bevy of collegiate accomplishments.

However, Barnett’s will to improve has been the driving force behind her ascension as a cross country runner.

“As a freshman, the mental aspect of cross country is something I struggled with,” Barnett recalled. “There were a couple of races that I didn’t finish.”

Thanks to her motivation to succeed at what she has always considered the weakest link of her running slate, Barnett has overcome several personal obstacles on the way to becoming one of the ACC’s best and brightest cross country runners.

“The mental side of cross country is the biggest part of it. It’s just a different type of pain,” Barnett explained. “It’s 20 minutes of pain. But you have that accomplished feeling after every cross country race because every race is a mental battle, in my opinion.”

Clearly learning to embrace the difficulty that comes with races that range to 6,000 meters, Barnett is now the veteran voice that Porter will be expecting to offer guidance to the five freshmen that make up this year’s cross country team. With that being said, the team aspect, her favorite facet of cross country, helps fuel Barnett’s will to succeed.

“The team aspect, I would say, is really special because how you place affects how the team does, and that’s all that honestly matters in a cross country race.”

Although Barnett is most excited to compete with her teammates, whom she considers best friends and sisters, one last time this fall, she also has personal aspirations for the 2016 cross country season. Aiming to improve on her regional performance from last year and possibly advance to nationals, Barnett will look to continue her trend of improving in some form or fashion in each season of her college tenure.

Coming off of a fairly serious foot injury that caused her to miss the entire outdoor track season this past spring, Barnett is using her trademark willpower to overcome yet another obstacle and feels great in the early stage of the cross country schedule. Forced to wear a walking boot for three months, Barnett has worked hard to regain her elite 2015 form and has high hopes for 2016.

The cross country season is arduous and boasts its fair share of trials and tribulations, which Barnett is well aware of.

“Just taking it week by week and race by race to have consistency is really the main goal,” said Barnett, who sat out the team’s first two meets at USC Upstate and Furman.

Despite her proclamation that the 1,500-meter race is her bread and butter running event, Barnett has proved that she is a premier cross country runner, and her mental fortitude is the primary reason why she has been able to do so.

Among many other things, transcendentalist Ralph Waldo Emerson was known for his wise maxims, one of which reads, “Adopt the pace of nature. Her secret is patience.” Perhaps unknowingly, Barnett has done exactly that along her journey to becoming a star cross country runner.

The lengthy layoff caused by the injury has placed Barnett at a disadvantage for the early portion of this fall’s cross country season. She has overcome obstacles before, and is primed to do so once more as she aims to go out on top in the sport that has molded the very fabric of who she is as both an athlete and a person.

Much like nature, the pace of cross country is deeply rooted in patience, and Barnett is self-taught in the art of patience. The 2016 cross country season could prove to be special, and Barnett will ultimately have a big say in it.