O’Donnell sets the pace for UConn cross-country

By Allen Lessels Globe Correspondent 

University of Connecticut

Mike O'Donnell

Senior Mike O’Donnell leads the University of Connecticut men’s cross-country team into the championship portion of the season as a three-time team captain. The Methuen resident finished sixth in the American Athletic Conference championships in 2015 and 2016. He has won individual conference titles in the mile indoors and 1,500 meters outdoors. A double major in environmental studies and geography, he’s a member of the school’s Student Athletic Advisory Committee. UConn will compete in the NCAA Northeast Regionals Nov. 10 in Buffalo.

Q. What do you plan to do after college?

A. I’m not 100 percent sure. But I’ve been told if you do something you love, you’ll find what it is you want to do. I think I’d like to be a park ranger after college, but where I’m not sure. I’d like to help people and educate them about the environment, maybe teach and work on local environmentally sustainable projects.

Q. What are the team’s goals heading into the regionals?


A. We’re definitely not one of the top-ranked teams, but we know what we have as a team athletically and we’ve seen ourselves be successful at points, and we’ve also seen ourselves not live up to our potential. Hopefully we’ll go into the regional meet and attack the 10K in a way we never have before.

Q. Which do you prefer, cross-country or track?

A. I’ve been asked that a lot and I still don’t really know. I like both for different reasons. I think I like track a little more because it’s my strong suit. I like cross-country because it channels things in different ways. When you don’t have to run in circles, it makes it a lot more interesting.

Q. What will you be doing with running after college?

A. I haven’t really decided. I’ll stay active. I don’t know if right off the bat I’ll be running, but I don’t see myself sitting still for very long. From the age of 2 my family had me skiing. That’s my family’s sport. I’d like to get back to that. I haven’t skied since junior year in high school. I gave it up in order to achieve my track dreams.

Q. What’s the best piece of advice you ever got from a coach?

A. Coach [Greg] Roy likes to say, compete competitively. It’s a silly little quote when you say it. But if you think about it, as an athlete, if you can’t compete on the day of the event, you will never be able to achieve at a higher level. People who are not necessarily athletes who are gifted, as long as they come and do what they can and compete that day, will be able to come away with some better results. It’s the same on a professional level. If I want to have success, I have to compete with those around me and push myself to be at the next level.

Q. What’s been your favorite class at UConn?

A. I might be in it right now. Environmental Studies 4000, our capstone class. We have to write a paper on basically whatever we want. It has to be involved with the environment and what we’ve learned in our years here. The teacher is Dr. [Carol] Atkinson-Palombo. She does a good job letting students express themselves in what is a broad area. She allows you to explore and find out what your passion is and lets you just run with it.

Q. Has she been your favorite professor as well?


A. She or Dr. [Andrew] Jolly-Ballantine. He’s one of the most enthusiastic people I’ve ever met. He says with a last name like that you have to be.

Q. What’s your favorite movie?

A. “Good Will Hunting.” A good old Boston flick.

Q. When did you first realize you were fast?

A. When I was growing up I was always quick. But it was more of a racing-in-the-yard type of thing. I think I realized I was fast probably at the end of sophomore year of high school, early junior year. Looking back, I probably didn’t realize it at the time, I was still getting my butt kicked. I didn’t realize a freshman qualifying for states was a big deal. I didn’t really run until high school.

Q. What’s the role of the Student Athletic Advisory Committee?

A. We try to make sure athletes are represented well, not only in the school but in the NCAA. We cover things like mental health, drinking and driving, and all sorts of stuff. We do a lot of community outreach, reading to local school children and working with the people around us. I joined four years ago, and it’s had a huge impact on me in being more active in the UConn community.


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