HR Pod: Leah O’Connor, Professional Runner and Former Michigan State Standout

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Photo by James Rogers

Leah O’Connor.


Host James Rogers sits down with professional runner and former Michigan State standout Leah O’Connor for an expansive conversation. Now based in Grand Rapids, Michigan, the 27-year-old discusses her hometown roots, decorated MSU career and pro running roller-coaster ride. Topics also include mental health, faith, writing, farm life, support systems and Harper (her dog).

At MSU, Leah captured multiple Big Ten titles—cross country, indoor track, outdoor track—and won a national title in the 3,000-meter steeplechase (June 2014) and indoor mile (March 2015). She was a member of the undefeated 2014 MSU women’s cross-country team coached by Walt Drenth that won the national title in dominating fashion.

Leah’s 9:18.85 personal record in the 3K steeplechase set in May 2016 makes her the fifth-fastest American ever in the women’s steeple. Now sponsored by HOKA and coached by Dathan Ritzenhein, Leah is a member of the Gazelle Elite Racing Team.

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HR Pod: Erin Herrmann, NCAA D3 Women’s Steeplechase Champion

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Photo by Rachel Bush (via Ohio Wesleyan T&FXC)

Erin Herrmann (No. 10) races in the NCAA Division III women’s 3,000-meter steeplechase final on May 27 in Geneva, Ohio. Erin won the national title with a time of 10:21.08.


Erin Herrmann joins James Rogers in conversation. On May 27, Erin captured the national title in the women’s 3,000-meter steeplechase at the NCAA Division III Outdoor Track and Field Championships in Geneva, Ohio. She finished runner-up at nationals in 2016—her junior year. Erin wrapped up her Hope College running career with a personal best of 10:13.39 in the steeple on June 10 at the Music City Distance Carnival in Nashville. She has Hope school records in the steeplechase, outdoor 5K, indoor 3K and as the mile leg of the Distance Medley Relay. She is a four-time All-American and now owns the fourth-fastest steeplechase in women’s D3 history.

Erin shares her journey to a national title, including balancing academic responsibilities and battling eating disorders while maintaining full-time training. The conversation also includes racing anecdotes and the love/appreciation for teammates and coaches. She talks about the role of faith in her daily life and where the Lord is leading her post-Hope. Erin has Colorado on her radar for the fall—she plans to student-teach at a school for refugee children in Denver.

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No. 113, Revisited—3rd Visit [Runners]

Photo by Mike Sonnenberg
Photo by Mike Sonnenberg

“When my parents got divorced, that’s when I lifted weights and ran and just got the anger out of me. When I finally let it go, I could finally train well, and it was a lot off my chest. Running helped me through that. When I was mad, I would go out and run.”

Check out Mike Sonnenberg’s (photographer) Pure Saginaw and Lost In Michigan Facebook pages. For more of Mike’s event photos, click here.

No. 105, Revisited—3rd Visit [Runners]

Photo Courtesy of IWU Parents
Photo Courtesy of IWU Parents

“I had plantar fasciitis for a year-and-a-half, and it’s still not quite gone. But I raced through all last track season and just sucked it up, so then I could go compete at nationals. It worked out really well because we did well and it was worth it. But then I had to take my entire summer off, which I wasn’t expecting to do because I thought I could just heal up in a couple of weeks. So I didn’t do any of my summer training, and it was kind of scary because by the end of the summer, in a weird way, I started enjoying not running. It scared me because I wasn’t training and I was enjoying the lazy life. That’s really scary because I love running, and then to think that I would actually enjoy not doing it was really scary for me. But when I started running again after a month of torture—I was trying to jump back in after no summer training—I loved running more than I had before I was injured. I loved not running, but I loved running more than I loved not running.”

No. 106, Revisited—3rd Visit [Runners]

Photo Courtesy of IWU Parents
Photo Courtesy of IWU Parents

“Be patient. Everybody that is thinking about running in college probably is pretty successful in high school. No matter who you are, if you’re going somewhere to run in college, you’re probably not going to be the top dog your first year, or even the second year—maybe not even the third year if you have a really good program. You also might come into a situation where the expectation is beyond what you thought you could do. You almost have to turn that off and not worry about it. I’m running things now that I wouldn’t have thought about when I was 18 years old. You have to realize that you’re going to go through the grinder before you get there. But you can still get there, as long as you do those little things.”

Neno (speaker) is bib No. 468.

No. 104, Revisited—3rd Visit [Runners]

Photo Courtesy of IWU Parents
Photo Courtesy of IWU Parents

“This year, at Wake Forest, I’m running the 5K. The goal is to break 15 [minutes] for the first time. Nothing exciting happens really until the end. I see that I’m going to break 15 minutes—I see 14:55, 56, and I’m just like, ‘I did it.’ So I put my hands up—I was in fourth [place]. Right as I put my hands up, some guy passes me right at the line. That has been one of the highlights, or lowlights, for me—highlights for everybody else.”

Jacob ran 14:57.54. His teammates said the funniest thing about it was that it looked like he was celebrating fourth place.

No. 109, Revisited [Runners]

Photo by James Rogers
Photo by James Rogers

“My senior year at state, I think I was getting interviewed after my 800-meter prelim. There was a couple camera guys and a few people interviewing me, and I was feeling good and talking to them. Out of nowhere, I was like, ‘Excuse me.’ And I just threw up everywhere. The whole night, when I was watching the news, I was like, ‘Please don’t [show that].’”

No. 106, Revisited [Runners]

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Photo by James Rogers

“I’m not a super extroverted person, but the bigger the event, the more energy it gives me. I’m contradicting myself a little bit, but I like going to the national meets and just watching the performances and then going out there and trying to do it. I think part of that is my competitiveness. But you see somebody do something really well—whether it’s from your school or another school—in the 400-meter hurdles or something, and it’s like, I gotta do something equally as good in my event.”