by Danny Barnts, sports information director
MOST first time college students face the dilemma of moving away from home and starting somewhere new when they choose where to continue their education. Amanda Wright, however, ended up moving back to where she was born, following in her parents’ footsteps—not only to Western Oregon but also to the track, helping the Wolves’ men and women’s cross country teams return together to Nationals for the first time in 22 years.
Beginning a journey
The story begins as any good story does: with a campfire. It was 1989, and the Western Oregon University’s (WOSC at the time) men and women’s cross country teams were one year removed from an appearance in the NAIA National Championships. Both teams had reported back to school early to begin their training for the upcoming season, but coach Debbie Eide also wanted to bring the athletes closer together as a unit, so she organized a camping trip for both the men's and women's team at the Metolius campgrounds. This became the setting of the start of a relationship between Kevin and Danelle Wright that would lead not only to a loving marriage but also to the building block for a future Western Oregon appearance in the National Championships.
On Wednesday, Oct. 18, 1989, in the middle of cross country season, Amanda Renee Wright was born in Corvallis to her pair of proud parents. Four days later, Amanda was taken to watch her father run for the Wolves—her introduction to a sport she would later learn to love. Over the next two years, Amanda was raised in the campus apartments while her parents balanced family life, school and sports. Kevin had recently been promoted from resident advisor to manager, so the family continued to live on campus. This caused some interesting planning and juggling of schedules, Danelle recalls. She remembers arranging meeting points with Kevin and handing off the stroller with Amanda, so one parent could watch her while the other attended class or practice.
Eventually the Wrights moved away, and Amanda started attending Capital High School in Olympia, Wash., where Kevin was the cross country coach. Continuing the family saga, Amanda began racking up league MVP and all-state honors for her running prowess. Despite her success, Amanda says her parents did not push her into cross country. Instead they supported Amanda and encouraged her to try new things, the first of which happened to be running.
Returning to Western Oregon
As Amanda continued to excel in high school cross country and track & field, she began to attract interest from collegiate cross country teams. One recruiting call came from Mike Johnson, Western Oregon head track & field and cross country coach, who told Amanda he would be interested in having her run for the Wolves. With Coach Johnson's words as encouragement, Amanda began looking at Western Oregon.
Without committing to the school or recognizing it was the same place where her parents had met, Amanda attended a Preview Day at Western Oregon with her mother. Danelle pointed out where she and Kevin used to live, and Amanda then realized that Western was the university her parents had attended and where she had lived for the first years of her life. Despite these connections and possibly her parents’ internal hope that she would attend WOU, Amanda was not pressured but given the chance to freely choose where she wanted to spend her college days. “My parents were always very supportive of whatever I wanted to do,” said Amanda. “They were really good about letting me decide which school fit best for me.” In the end, Amanda committed to Western Oregon and followed in her parents’ footsteps by becoming a Wolf.
Building a legacy
From the first day Amanda set foot on the WOU campus as a college freshman, she has been in constant motion. During that first fall, Amanda ran in all six races for the cross country team and was the Wolves’ top female finisher at the GNAC Championships. Amanda then built on her cross-country success, transferring it to the track, where she set the school record in the 5,000-meter indoor run and won the second spot in the outdoor 10,000-meter (she was also a two-time GNAC All-Academic team selection).
On the road, Kevin and Danelle have been avid team supporters. They also attend home meets whenever they can, taking pictures and cheering on their alma mater. However, the Wrights also give Amanda the space she needs as an athlete. “They know I really appreciate them coming but understand at times it is best that I just focus on my race,” Amanda says. “They are really good about being supportive but letting me do what is best for me and my race.” Of course, both Kevin and Danelle were right at the finish line during the crucial Regional meet in fall 2010, when Amanda helped Western Oregon send both the men's and women's cross country teams to the National Championships—a feat the Wolves had last accomplished 22 years before when Amanda’ parents were competing.
The NCAA Division II Cross Country Championships are unlike any other NCAA Championship as the number of available bids per region (eight total regions) is determined by a region's performance in the previous year’s national championship. Based on the West Region’s performance at the 2009 championships, in which two men's teams and four women's teams placed in the top eight, there were six bids out of the region available for the 2010 National Championships, and the WOU women were determined to step up and seize their opportunity. Coming on the heels of the men's fourth place finish, which earned them a bid to Nationals, the women posted a fifth place team finish to seal their own trip to the championships in Louisville, Ky.
This was special because it was the first time since 1988 that Western Oregon had sent both the men's and women's team to Nationals, especially because both teams went as a group. “Going with the guys’ team felt like it was right.” Amanda explained. “You know how hard they worked the past five years, and being able to go with same group took a lot of the pressure off. Although we are different teams, we are one team.”
Ultimately, Amanda’s attitude about teamwork and support is not only a concept encouraged by Coach Johnson and the present staff, but it has been a hallmark of the Western Oregon cross country program since the days when Kevin and Danelle began their journey by the light of a campfire.