The Olympics That Started it All
Photo credit: Ralph Epifanio
Photo credit: Ralph Epifanio

By Stacey Kilpatrick

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – While the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta were under way, senior cross-country runner Svenja Meyer, 7 at the time, was watching from her home in Appen, Germany with her mother, enthralled.

“My mom was like, ’well that would be great to actually make it to the Olympics one day,’ and I was like, ‘mom, you don’t want to make it there, you want to win.’

“I liked watching those track races. I didn’t get tired of them running 25 laps around the track, I was just watching and that was kind of like the starting point,” Meyer said.

She has been running since she was 10. Her father ran in high school, but pursued soccer.

“I feel like I started and I never stopped,” she explained. The process of putting in miles, extra work, focusing on nutrition and stretching and the strategy of the race -- Meyer said she enjoys it all.

“It’s all that process that everything comes together. … Running develops over years like other endurance sports too and I like the process.”

While attending the University of Hamburg in Germany her freshman year, Meyer decided she wanted to experience a new way of living by studying and running abroad. With the help of an agency back home that created an athletic profile detailing her times that coaches could view, she chose Jacksonville University.

“You know when everyone [in the States] has their big signing day [in February] … well I just signed the papers and I was like, I hope everything works out. I put them in the mail and then in August [2010] when my parents actually brought me to the airport, I was just like, Lord hopefully someone picks me up on the other side of the world.”

Coach Ron Grigg picked her up from the airport.

Studying English for nine years while in Germany, she didn’t have many language barriers, but there were a few moments when she first arrived where she experienced the difference.

“It felt kind of different to actually come here. It’s not just school English, you actually have to talk to people. One time I actually needed a tissue and I asked in class, could I get a handkerchief, and everyone was just looking at me [funny].”

Aside from the classroom, on the field last season was her favorite thus far. She ran a personal record in the 5k and 6k and became the second-fastest runner in JU history on the 5k and 6k All-Time lists; Meyer sits behind former teammate Joane Pierre in the 5k (17:40) from Oct. 27 at Fort Myers and in the 6k too, (21:31) from Nov. 9 in Tallahassee.

“It was also really nice to have Joane Pierre at that time, my teammate, make it to in-state and nationals because we were training a lot together so I felt accomplished too that she actually made it because we were running so many miles together and up the gravel hill probably like 200 times that year, but it all paid off for me and for her so that was a really cool experience and my favorite memory.”

During her most recent race on Sept. 27 at the 14 Invitational, Meyer ran 26 seconds faster than her previous best on the course, placing second in the 5k among 42 runners.

“I just feel like all the little puzzle pieces are finally getting … together,” she said.

“All the endurance comes together. I kind of figure out how to balance academics and athletics and it’s also that, before when I was younger, you’re always anxious and nervous before races, and it kind of makes you tired and it’s not really positive for you because you’re just too anxious for failure, so right now I’m just having the approach that I’m so grateful and happy that I can actually run my senior year … so I’m trying to take this positive energy and be grateful to run.”

Meyer is racing in Jacksonville’s cross country meet this Friday at the Florida State Invitational in Tallahassee, where she’s hoping to PR.

“It’s my favorite course, so it’s going to be exciting.”

For the Atlantic Sun Championship three weeks later on Nov. 2, Meyer said she believes anything can happen.

“I’m ready to compete and I want to achieve. But like everyone, everyone wants to win. But I’m pretty positive that I can be in the mix up front; we’ll see what happens that day. And then I hope to go to regionals to round out my senior year.”

After graduation Meyer plans on continuing to run. It depends on her career, but she is rather confident that she will continue to run road races, including the 5k, 6k, 10k and probably the half; just not the marathon yet.

“That will maybe take a few more years because I don’t want to just run it for the fact of running it; I want to run fast, too.  So I will probably continue road racing because it’s such an important part of my life.

“I’m just a runner…. It’s just being a runner is kind of a lifestyle and you never really lose that because it’s a part of you.”