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Former DII runner found balance in and out of college

By Brittany Johnson

For seven-time, three-sport NCAA Division II All-American Kate Griewisch, the key to success has always been balance.

As a cross country and track standout at Lenoir-Rhyne University, Griewisch learned to effectively juggle athletics with her academics, participation in student organizations and involvement in the church. But before Griewisch’s work-life equilibrium started to pay dividends, she was forced to strike a much more delicate balance: one involving her health.

Griewisch, a native of Banner Elk, N.C., started running cross country her sophomore year of high school in an effort to stay in shape for her favorite sport, soccer. It didn’t take long, however, for her or the coaches at Avery County High School to realize that her future looked much brighter as a collegiate runner.

After considering several schools, she accepted a scholarship to attend nearby Lenoir-Rhyne University of Division II’s South Atlantic Conference, a decision she still calls “the perfect fit.”

“I grew up in the Lutheran Church and Lenoir-Rhyne is affiliated with the Lutheran Church,” she said. “It just kind of had that small-school feel, and I had grown up in a small town. A lot of things really fit well for me.”

However, at her first cross country meet in a Bears uniform, Griewisch knew something wasn’t right.

“I felt really tired, and my legs were really heavy,” she remembered. “We just couldn’t figure out what was going on. I ended up having my blood tested, and it turned out I was anemic.”

Although anemia is a treatable condition, the diagnosis meant that Griewisch would have to take iron pills and endure grueling workouts as her body worked to restore its own internal balance. It wasn’t until a conference meet at the end of the season that she finally felt like herself again.

“All that work, a lot of really frustrating runs, and not being able to do what I knew I could finally paid off in that moment,” she said. “My parents were both there, and I was able to share that with them. I just realized that I had been given strength that wasn’t my own – God had given me that strength, and my family had really supported me. That made a huge difference and started to build my confidence.”

It wasn’t long before this newfound confidence and more hard work propelled Griewisch to become the most decorated athlete in Lenoir-Rhyne history.

As a sophomore the following season, Griewisch received her first All-America designation for cross country, an honor she would also receive the next two years (2009-11). She was named South Atlantic Conference Women’s Cross Country Runner of the Year, an act she would repeat her senior season.

During her junior and senior campaigns, Griewisch was also recognized for her performance in track and field. In outdoor track, she was twice named an All-American in the 10,000-meter run (2011 and 2012) and once at the 5K distance (2012). Her senior year, she also added All-America honors in indoor track and field in the 5,000-meter run.

For Griewisch, however, success was never limited to the track or the cross country course. Thanks to her equally hard work in the classroom, she became a two-time Capital One CoSIDA Academic All-American (2011 and 2012) and was named the South Atlantic Conference Women’s Cross Country Scholar-Athlete of the Year three times (2009-11).

As her impressive list of accomplishments grew, Griewisch started to receive attention across all sports. Her senior year, she was named the 2011-12 South Atlantic Conference Female Athlete of the Year and was one of nine finalists from all three NCAA divisions for the NCAA Woman of the Year.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the award Griewisch is most proud to have received is one that recognized her work-life balance. For the 2010-11 season, she was awarded the South Atlantic Conference Presidents Award, a prestigious honor that recognizes student-athletes for their work not only in athletics, but also in the classroom and the community.

“That is what I had focused on my entire time at Lenoir,” she said. “Not just to be a good athlete, but it was really important to me to do well in school and to serve my community and serve others…I wanted to be a great athlete. I always want to be the best that I can in whatever I do. But to be recognized for all three of those things was really important to me.”

After graduating from Lenoir-Rhyne with a 3.85 GPA and a degree in biology with a pre-med focus, Griewisch was faced with another challenge: She hadn’t been accepted to the medical school of her choice.

As a backup plan, Griewisch had also applied and been accepted into Young Adults in Global Mission, a one-year, international missions program through the Lutheran Church. She decided to accept the position and spent the next year in Madagascar, living with a host family, working in a medical clinic and teaching English.

Slowly but surely, Griewisch learned the culture and language and eventually became engrained in the community. She also realized that, like her experience as a collegiate athlete, her time in Africa was enriched by the support she received from others.

“I went there with the mind that I wanted to serve and help the people there,” she said. “But in the end, I think the main thing I’ll take away from it is how much more I felt like I was given than I gave…I was there to serve them, but at the same time, they were also serving me.”

While in Madagascar, Griewisch was also introduced to osteopathic medicine, a holistic approach that focuses on the patient’s body, mind, and spirit – a balance that Griewisch has always embraced. As a result, she had a new career plan when she returned to the U.S. in August.

“All along, I had really wanted to be a doctor, and that didn’t change,” she said. “But I realized that, especially after my time as an athlete…and the focus on life in the balance, having to balance my studies, church, and also being an athlete…all of that made me realize that being an osteopathic physician was what I wanted. I had always known that idea of balance in your life.”

Now, Griewisch lives at home while she shadows an osteopathic physician and works on her medical school application. Although she hasn’t run competitively since her time at Lenoir-Rhyne, she does find time to run for her own enjoyment.

This year, she was selected as the South Atlantic Conference’s female representative on Division II’s 40th Anniversary Tribute Team – an honor recognizing former student-athletes whose hard work in athletics and the classroom exemplify the core values of the ideal Division II student-athlete.

Griewisch, who says she still applies what she learned as a student-athlete to her daily life, credits her experience at a DII school and the strong support system she developed there for all of her success.

“I was able to get more relationships with the people that I was working with,” she said. “I don’t know if I would have been able to find that same situation at another school.”