JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – At four-feet, nine-inches tall, Jacksonville University women's cross country runner Katy Solis is one of the smallest collegiate runners in the nation.
Just don't tell her that.
The Bonita Springs, Fla. native was six years old when she first started playing soccer, but it wasn't until her freshman year of high school that she decided to hang up her cleats and put on a different kind of spike – one meant for the rolling hills of golf courses that serve as the prime trails for cross country runners.
"I grew up playing sports," said Solis. "My parents influenced me being active all the time."
At the suggestion of a soccer teammate, Solis began running as part of her conditioning. "She convinced me to join the [cross country] team just for conditioning, but I ended up loving it. It came down to, one day, choosing either soccer or running."
And the rest is history.
So what drew Solis from her southern Gulf Coast hometown to the northeastern city on the Atlantic?
"For my high school, I had a team that was like my family. Having that aspect was one of the factors that drew me in. I was so used to having a small team and coming to JU was the same thing – everyone is just like family."
Along with the comfort of a close-knit team, small class sizes were also high on Solis' list for a potential school.
"I think one of the biggest things [that drew me to JU] was the small-ratio classrooms. There's more teacher involvement with the student and more one-on-one [experience]," added Solis. "Having those connections with the teachers, I didn't want to be just another number in a classroom at a big university."
Now a senior finishing her studies in kinesiology, Solis has experienced first-hand the connection between what she's learned in the classroom and applied it to her running career.
"I know many people think that being taller is better for running because of the [longer] stride length, but as a kinesiology student, I've been doing studies and actually you want to have short and powerful strides," explained Solis. "Having a longer stride doesn't have that big of an effect if it's not as powerful. Having a higher frequency of steps, like a cadence, is better. The amount of ground that a taller person covers, I cover the same amount but with quicker steps, which is what you would want in running."
Armed with a better understanding of the technicalities of her sport, Solis quickly became one of JU's top long-distance athletes. With a speedy 36:46.05 in the 10,000-meter run her sophomore year, she currently holds the second-fastest time in program history in the 10K.
"Katy has been in our scoring five on the cross country team since the moment she arrived on campus as a freshman," said Head Coach Ronald Grigg, Jr. "She is a student of the sport, and running is a big part of her identity."
However, in spite of her success on the trail, competitors still view Solis as the underdog – something she takes as motivation.
"I don't think my height is a disadvantage for me," said Solis. "When I walk up [to the starting line] very tall, they see me as short. It's really cool to see the reactions because some girls are always like, 'don't even worry about her because she's small,' but for me it's a motivator. They're twice as tall as me, but I can run twice as fast," laughed Solis.
With her success in cross country and track and field, along with her work ethic inside the classroom, there is one mantra that continues to ring true for her.
"One of my favorite quotes is 'it's not the size of the dog that matters, but the fight inside of the dog.' You never know what's going to happen. You can't judge a person by their height or their appearance."
Even though some may overlook her because of her height, Solis is clear that her height is anything but a disadvantage.
"I think that's pretty cool knowing that I can be an impact to a team like JU's cross country team by just being who I am," she said.
"I think JU has been good for Katy and Katy has been good for JU. To me that defines a successful college experience," added Grigg.
"You have to be determined and have heart in the sport," concluded Solis. "You can take a person twice as tall as me and if they don't have those components, they're not going to be as good. Heart plays a big role."