Columbia — It’s a cool fall morning, and senior Julia Hanson is stretching and preparing for an hour of cross country practice. A consistent jog begins what will be a lengthy day of class, practice and activities. Practice ends at 7:30 a.m., and she only has thirty minutes to get a shower in before her class at MU and the rest of her day begins. She has to hurry because, unlike all her other Stephens College classes, this one is off-campus.
Her MU class ends and the rush to class resumes as her next one is back at Stephens. Two hours of coursework later, Hanson takes a quick break for lunch and homework. Her schedule is just starting, though. There’s another class at 2:00 p.m., and an hour after that, she has to get to the writing lab where she volunteers as a tutor. The job is only supposed to be for two hours, but she often finds herself leaving the lab at 6:00 p.m.. On Wednesdays and Thursdays, though, she has to leave at 5; she is a student-teacher at the Cedar Creek Therapeutic Riding Center, where she teaches disabled kids and adults how to ride horses -- a rehabilitating activity emphasizing joint, muscle and balance therapy. Depending on the day, Hanson’s first semester schedule ends at either 6:00 p.m. or 7:00 p.m., and she spends the rest of the night doing homework and sleeping.
Next semester, her daily load will lighten a little, but only slightly. She replaces early morning cross country practice with mid-afternoon swimming practice, and her class schedule, currently 21 credit hours, drops marginally to 18.
“Yeah, I pretty much have class all day and do homework all night,” Hanson said.
Her schedule has never been empty, though. Hanson has been a part of at least one school athletic team every year since her freshman year of high school, and only while on soccer scholarship at Coe College in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, did she play on only one.
Hanson started filling her plate with activities a half an hour away from Coe in Mt. Vernon, Iowa where she grew up and attended high school. During her high school career, she played four sports and dabbled in a few others.
“I did soccer, volleyball for a year, and then I did cross country. I kind of did track, but they wouldn’t let me do track and soccer,” Hanson said. “And then I did softball for one summer.”
Of those four sports, Hanson excelled at two -- cross-country and soccer. However, after she tore right ACL as a sophomore during soccer season, she was forced to sit out cross-country the following year. Still a team captain and present at all the meets, Hanson watched from the sideline as her team competed. For the first time since junior high, Hanson had a substantial amount of time away from sports. Incapacitated because of the injury, she grew frustrated with her inactive state.
“It was tough. I still went to all the events, but to not compete was hard.”
After a year of rehabilitation, Hanson regained her spot on the soccer team, and her talents would soon garner attention at the next level. Coe College saw enough potential in Hanson to offer her an athletic scholarship, but before leaving for school, she underwent another surgery on her knee. As a result, Hanson played her freshman year at Coe with some noticeable distress.
“I still wasn’t fully recovered from my injury. I had to wear a knee brace, and I wasn’t 100 percent.”
A year later, Hanson, still recovering from her knee injury, decided to transfer from Coe, opting for Stephens College. The draw of Stephens, though, wasn’t its soccer or cross-country programs -- both nonexistent at Stephens at the time of her enrollment -- but its equestrian program, which addressed a passion of Hanson’s since childhood.
“I started riding when I was five, and I’ve owned horses since I was six,” Hanson said. “I’ve been taking lessons up until now.”
Hanson had been participating in horse shows consistently throughout her time in Mt. Vernon, so when she came to Stephens, a school known for its equestrian program, Hanson thrived in the atmosphere, participating regularly in horse shows at the Midway Expo Center.
And while riding horses became the latest addition to her schedule, she also caught up on one sport and started a new one after coming to Columbia. Hanson took up swimming and restarted her career in cross-country. Because of her athletic ability, Hanson excelled at both. She started as the No. 2 runner her junior year -- the inaugural season of the Stephens cross country program -- but quickly moved up to No. 1 her senior year.
“She did a tremendous amount of work over the summer and transformed herself into a very strong No. 1 for us this year and ran times that were three minutes faster than last year,” cross country coach Dane Pavlovich said.
Hanson saw the culmination of her running talent senior year at the University of Evansville Invitational in October when she became the first runner in the program’s brief history to medal at an event and set a school record with a time of 20 minutes, 34 seconds.
In January, Hanson will start her final semester in collegiate athletics when she begins swimming, a sport she hasn’t competed in since middle school.
“Swimming has always come easy to me, but I’m not exactly the fastest swimmer on the team, I found out.”
Still, swimming coach Laura Wacker is eager to regain Hanson for the second half of the season after she missed the first half running cross country.
“I think (her running ability) can only help her this year,” Wacker said. “I’m looking forward to see how she does.”
When swimming ends, Hanson will see her collegiate athletic career come to a close, and the only activities she plans on pursuing are riding and the occasional jog. Ideally, she sees herself continuing her work in therapeutic horse-riding and plans to still participate in horse shows.
It won’t be the same for Hanson, though. The consistent competition she faced weekly will be gone, and similar to the rehabilitation of her high school ACL injury, it will not be easy.
“Basically every year of my life I’ve done a competitive sport, and I’ll be done, so it’ll be tough.”
That is unless she finds a new sport.
“I won’t be running for any particular reason. I mean, unless I decide to run a marathon or something.”