Whitney Rich competes in cross country championships.
Whitney Rich '20 runs to the finish line during the Division III Women's Cross Country Championships held at E.P. Tom Sawyer State Park on Nov. 23, 2019 in Louisville, Kentucky. (Photo by Timothy Nwachukwu/NCAA Photos via Getty Images)

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Beginning this spring, Whitman College’s scholar-athletes have a new opportunity to compete nationally in the NCAA Division III. The college has formalized its nontraditional cross country season as an NCAA-recognized distance track program.

The program will make it possible for Whitman’s runners to compete in national championships without adding additional coaching staff or expenses for the college, said Athletic Director Kim Chandler.

For several years, Whitman’s cross country team has been holding a nontraditional five-week training season each spring, led by coach Scott Shields and assistant coach Neal Christopherson. The training also included three intercollegiate outdoor track meets. Members of the cross country team have been pushing to have the spring training recognized as a Distance Track program for several years.

“Track and cross country go hand-in-hand. If you’re a distance runner, you always do both,” said Whitney Rich ’20, who placed fourth in the NCAA Division III Women’s Cross Country Championship last fall, a new best for the program. 

Rich led the effort to bring the distance track program to Whitman, putting together an official proposal, and meeting with President Kathleen Murray.

“I was crying tears of joy when I found out — I was so excited,” she said. “It just means a lot to all of us to be able to compete against other schools in the spring. It brings legitimacy to our program.”

Whitman won’t be reviving a full track and field program, Chandler noted, and the team will train at community facilities. Distance track runners participate in events that are 800 meters and longer.

“We’ve now given those cross country athletes something that all our scholar-athletes aspire to: The chance to be the best that they can be in each of their meets; a chance to run for a conference championship. All our athletes yearn for that,” Chandler said.