By Joe Lemire, Daily News-Record
Kendra Nissley traveled halfway around the world to rediscover her love of the sport she competed in every day back in the United States.
The junior cross-country standout at Eastern Mennonite University lived the past year in Germany to fulfill an EMU requirement. While studying in Marsburg, Nissley realized how much she missed running � something she has done competitively since seventh grade � and saw a notice for a half-marathon scheduled for mid-July.
She rather spontaneously decided to begin training.
The Royals� top runner as a freshman — she finished 54th in the 2003 NCAA Division III Championships � Nissley missed the competition and found training to run 13 miles to be good inspiration.
"At first, it was hard to figure out my routine, but then last summer I decided to do a half-marathon, and that structured my running a bit more," said Nissley, who was named the Old Dominion Athletic Conference Cross Country Runner of the Week on Monday. "I�m more of a competitive runner. I do it just for fun, but I need that goal, too, to work toward."
The experience, she said, was more than she could have expected and not just because she finished in 1 hour, 39 minutes and 5.6 seconds, which was good enough for fifth place among all women and for second in her age group.
"It was the most fun I�ve had running, like, ever," she said. "I have fun running cross country, but the race isn�t long enough. For 13 miles, just to be running is the most wonderful thing in the world."
For the first half of Nissely�s year abroad, she spent six months in Heuchlingen, as part of the Brethren Colleges Abroad program. A language aficionado, Nissley is majoring in German but also is working toward a second major in justice, peace and conflict studies.
Following her time in Heuchlingen, Nissely moved to Marburg, where she studied at Philipps University.
She is now back at EMU for her junior year and has quickly readjusted to competitive running, taking first place by more than 13 seconds in this last weekend�s Blue Marlin Invitational at Virginia Wesleyan College.
Royals coach Lester Zook, in his 16th season at EMU, is glad to have her back and knows how important the school�s cross-cultural experiences can be in the education of his runners.
"We don�t have many students who come purely for a sport," Zook said. "There is something larger that EMU is about than just the athletic program. Certainly, athletics is a bait, but they�re going to stay here and be committed if they buy into the bigger picture, which is a Christian education."
Zook then joked that Nissely�s re-debut race has made it easy to forget that she was gone.
"Last year as a coach, I lamented to see her go a whole year away," he said, "and then she comes back and wins her first race, so what do I have to regret?"
Zook added that Nissley�s recent recognition is a nice compliment for his ace runner, but that she still has work to do to reach the elite pack of ODAC runners.
"Interestingly enough, this week we�re using a passage from Philippians 4 [for the team devotion] where the apostle Paul says, �Not that I�ve already obtained perfection, but one thing I do, I keep striving on,�" Zook said. "I talked to Kendra just today and said, �That verse is remarkably apt for your situation.�"
Just as she continues to work on her running, so too is she working on formulating her post-college destination. Though she was enchanted with Germany�s natural and urban beauty, she found it difficult to be away from EMU both athletically and socially.
"It was really hard," she said. "I went back and forth with [the decision to go] constantly. Even when I was there, I second-guessed it. Now that I�m back here, I feel like I�ve missed a whole year of my friends� lives."
Previously, she had visions of moving to Germany after graduating, but she�s now less sure. Like most college juniors, she�s still not certain what her future plans are.
"Concrete? No," she said with a laugh. "Maybe I�ll get my master�s in German."
Or maybe, like the idea of running a half-marathon, a new challenge will come along that she�ll just have to train toward.