Nov. 9, 2016
By Claire Kramer
An alarm rings through the darkened Fisher Hall dorm room. Sophomore cross country runner Anthony Williams – Tony for short – rises from his bed and gets dressed. It’s 7:30 a.m. – time to get to work.
For Williams, running is in his blood. “My dad was the high school coach ever since I was born, so I grew up going to his practices and meets,” he said. His mother serves as the girls’ cross country coach at Williams’ high school, Bloomington South. “I grew up in the culture, and [my parents] definitely pushed me to try other sports, and I enjoyed the other sports, but I always knew that when I got to high school, running was going to be the only thing I did.”
Williams heads out for his short morning run, a quick three-mile jog around St. Mary’s and St. Joseph’s lakes, glancing over to watch the sun rise over Notre Dame, Our Lady, atop the Golden Dome. The Catholic nature was a main reason he chose Notre Dame, Williams says.
“I grew up in a Catholic church, and didn’t go to a Catholic school, so I thought it was cool to be able to come here and integrate that part of my life in my schooling as well,” he said.
In his residence hall, Fisher, Williams gets to practice his Catholic faith through dorm Masses.
“Fisher has Mass every Monday to Thursday, and I love being able to go to as many as I can during the week,” he said. “At the beginning of my freshman year, I went Monday through Thursday most weeks. It was just a blast to get to know the guys that were going to Mass.”
Fisher’s community is one of William’s favorite parts of Notre Dame. Last year, he lived in the basement, which houses only seven rooms.
“It’s a close group down there,” he said. “We had one room where we had a projector on a whole wall, so we would just play video games or watch all the sports together and be cramped in that one little room. Everyone would be so close to each other but we would have so much fun with one another.”
While spending time every day with his fellow cross country runners, Williams said it’s important to him to have friends outside of the team as well, especially in his residence hall.
“You reach out to people with other interests and you get to know the other side of Notre Dame other than athletics,” he said. “It’s nice to be able to do that with a few that live in close proximity to you.”
Post-morning run, Williams bounds back to South Quad and into South Dining Hall. He takes his training seriously, down to his breakfast options. Williams opts for an omelet with spinach, ham, cheese and mushrooms. “I’m really big in eating a lot of spinach during the day for iron,” he explains. In addition, he picks up a blueberry muffin, especially in South Dining Hall (“They’re the best in South,” he adds) as well as a glass of chocolate milk.
After his longer Sunday morning team runs, Williams lets his creativity go wild.
“One of my favorite things to do is to go make a waffle and try to see what combination of toppings I can make on it,” he said. “I’ve put different cereals, peanut butter, chocolate sauce, a whole bunch of different stuff, just trying to come up with them best combination I can.”
Finishing his fuel-up, Williams swings open the doors of South Dining Hall and begins the walk to Jordan Hall of Science, passing Touchdown Jesus on his left, and Notre Dame Stadium on his right. Arriving at Jordan, he sheds his backpack for a white coat and goggles and begins his lab for Organic Chemistry. As a Biology major, Williams is getting in all the experience he can.
Over the summer, Williams worked in a genetics lab at Indiana University, studying and dissecting flies under a microscope and then creating images of his findings. In the future, he says that he has options.
“I really enjoy the research aspect right now, learning especially about the human body,” he said. “I’m trying to decide between doing med school or doing research. I’m pretty split between those two right now. I had a few research opportunities over the summer and that was cool, but I’ve also been interested in going into pediatric care, or possibly a physician’s assistant program.”
After his lab ends, Williams eats his lunch on the go (a turkey sandwich and a banana) and heads to his two afternoon classes: Foundations of Theology and Introduction to Philosophy. While cross country and Catholicism were two main reasons behind his decision to attend Notre Dame, another aspect was the high level of academics.
“[We have] pretty good academics for bio, and looking at the research opportunities here that I could have later on was definitely big,” he said.
And the fourth reason? The ability of Notre Dame to be both a large presence and a small, tight-knit community. “I’m sure people enjoy being able to get lost in a crowd [at other places], but I know a lot of the people here and enjoy being able to say ‘hi’ to everyone.”
Williams himself comes from a small community back home in Bloomington, Indiana, home of Indiana University. “We call ourselves townies, like other small-town people would,” he said. “Everyone is friendly for the most part. There are a lot of wooded areas, so we go hiking, and we have a couple lakes and state parks around us, so that’s pretty cool. We also have our own local restaurants that are known for their own things, like burger joints and pizza places.”
After class gets out at 3:15, it’s time to head over to the locker room for afternoon workout. Williams meets his teammates inside, and the fun begins. They never know where their runs might take them.
“There are a lot of different jokes during the day,” he said. “We’ve been chased by dogs with each other, but we’ve also just run with dogs. We call these dogs from their yards to come with us.”
After the workout concludes, Williams and his teammates return to the weight room for an hour, finishing up with stretching. Then, the team walks to dinner at North Dining Hall, home of the student-athlete Training Table, which features popular themed nights.
“My favorites are usually burger night or brunch, and that’s pretty popular between all athletes,” he said.
While the team bonds over dinner every night, they choose to spend time together outside of practice.
“One of our big things is on Saturday nights to sometimes have a movie night,” Williams said. “We’ll go to someone’s dorm room or go to the senior house off campus. … At the senior house, they have a nice backyard this year so we’ll go hang out there and play cornhole or throw a frisbee around during the day.”
Williams said this closeness amongst the runners pays off during the races as well, likening himself to a wolf: he’s only as good as his pack.
“Our big focus is being able to run during the race with one another, so I think the more we hang out with each other, the more comfortable we get with one another,” he said. “It’s easier to run hard with each other and hold ourselves accountable. It’s nice to always have someone there who will tell you what you need to do, what you need to get done and get better and race your best.”
On race days, Williams and his teammates arrive in the team locker room and spend the day resting, playing video games, and doing some of their non-strenuous classwork, trying to keep things normal, and keep their mind off the race ahead. After the race, the team will go out to eat together with family members that come in town. The preferred dinner location? Williams said his favorite is Rocco’s, a local pizza restaurant in South Bend, about five minutes away from campus.
But when Williams is back to the weekly practice schedule, he leaves dinner around 8 p.m. and heads back to Fisher to finish his homework. After a few hours of reading, lab reports and papers, he’s ready to get to bed around 11 p.m.. Early to some college students, his bedtime is indicative of the packed day he wakes up to every morning, and the group of teammates that are always with him.
“Our big thing is that we’re a family, we’re always with each other,” Williams said. “We’re all each other’s’ best friends.”
When his head hits the pillow to prepare for a new day, he knows that Notre Dame cross country is far more than a sport; it’s more like a home. His teammates are not just his teammates, and not just his best friends. They’re his family. And family sticks together.
Claire Kramer is a junior student assistant for Fighting Irish Media, working closely with the Athletics Communications Directors for the men’s and women’s golf, basketball, football and cross country programs. An American Studies major with minors in Theology and Journalism, Ethics and Democracy, Kramer is from Olathe, Kansas.