Oct. 1, 2014
By Josh Dempsey ’16
To be a cross country runner is one thing. To be a cross country student is quite another.
University of Notre Dame junior runner Molly Seidel seems to be straddling the line between both. A standout on the Irish women’s cross country team and an anthropology and environmental sciences in the College of Arts and Letters, Seidel took her academics and athletics across the seas and national borders this summer, traveling to the Irish islands of Connemara (located to the west of Ireland) and south of the equator to Argentina.
A happenstance encounter with an Argentine post-doctorate fellow helped set Seidel’s journey in motion.
“It was kind of a lucky chance,” Seidel says. “During the fall of my sophomore year, I was doing research and became very interested in Andean archaeology and pre-Columbian societies. I reached out to someone here at Notre Dame who I heard specialized in that area, and after some discussions, he invited me to be part of his research team heading to Argentina.”
But the unbelievable opportunity did not end there. Dr. Ian Kuijt, a professor in the anthropology department at Notre Dame, and one of Seidel’s professors, happened to know well the post-doctorate fellow that Seidel was working with at the time as the two were joined together by a book-writing venture. During the time the two spent together, Kuijt learned of Molly’s interest in archaeological digs and offered her a spot on his team going to Ireland.
“To prepare for the trip to Argentina, Dr. Ian Kuijt, who runs an archaeology dig out in Ireland, suggested that I come out and work on his dig for the month before I headed to Argentina,” Seidel says. It offered another great opportunity for me. He (Dr. Kuijt) figured it would be great experience for me and a lot of fun as well.”
While “fun” could be looked at as a relative term, Seidel made the most of her time across the Atlantic and her opportunities.
“There were several undergraduate students from Notre Dame as well as former Ph.D. students from the University, in addition to a couple of professional archaeologists from Ireland,” Seidel says. “We all were on an isolated island off the west coast of Ireland. An inhabited island called Inishbofin (where only 100 people live) served as our base.”
For nearly two weeks for eight to nine hours a day, the group took a ferry to Inishark, an uninhabited island that was abandoned in the 1960s, and dug through household remains dating back to the Bronze. Much of the dig, however, focused on homes from the 1800s.
During her two months abroad, Seidel spent the entire month of June in Ireland and all of July in Argentina.
“In between Ireland and Argentina, I got to fly home and stay there for a whole three days, regroup a little bit and eat some home-cooked meals,” says Seidel with a laugh.
Although short, her time back in the States gave her a brief time to prepare for her next big adventure: to Argentina and the Andes mountains. While this trip centered more on being an academic experience, Seidel found time and friendships that allowed her to stay in top running condition.
“Going down to Argentina was so much fun,” Seidel says. “One woman I worked with there was a member of a trail-running group, and she was able to get me into a couple races in the month that I was staying there. Getting to run with their group was great, and they were some of the most insane races I’ve ever done.”
“During these races, all the participants ran up a mountain and had to climb over rocks,” she says. “It was like nothing I had ever done before. Running at Notre Dame on the golf course and running these races were two different experiences. In fact, sometimes I feared that I could have fallen off a cliff.”
Although similar in the fact that both projects were related to anthropology, Seidel’s trips to Argentina and Ireland were different in many others respects.
For one week during its stay, the group was situated in Cordoba, one of Argentina’s major cities, and then headed to the Andes to do some research and survey work. Much of their work centered on hiking rather than digging. And as Seidel notes, the difference in climate and landscape between the two sites could not have been more different.
“We hiked up and down the mountains all day, mapping out 2,000 year old agricultural and pastoral structures,” Seidel says when describing the project. “Lugging all that equipment served as great cross-training for me.”
Seidel, however, did not limit her workouts to the strenuous days of carrying equipment up and over mountains.
“All the people on our archaeology team joked and gave me a hard time because on one of the days we had to hike about twelve miles to get to the village,” she says. ” And after we got there, I went for a run and everyone called me crazy.”
Although grueling at times, Seidel understood the value of her struggles and experiences.
“Athletically, the experience really taught me the extremes of dedication,” she says. “There were days where I would get back from 10 hours hiking around with gear, and the last thing I wanted to do was head out when it’s snowing, cold and dark. It took a lot to get myself out the door and keep the end goal in mind.”
Though it may have contributed to many early mornings, and many aching muscles, Seidel describes the importance of running during her time abroad. “Running was one of those things I just needed to do. Especially during the times when I was going through culture shock, or missing home, or just needed to get away; running was always a staple in my life and the release that I needed.”
Her summer also proved to be the first in which she was injury-free while training. While the days consisted of climbing, digging and hiking, Seidel did find time to log more hours of training than she ever had in previous summers. Plagued by stress fractures and tendonitis during her freshman and sophomore years, she found it difficult to compete to the best of her abilities.
But after coming off a summer of extensive training, Seidel says she’s in the best shape she’s ever been.
“This is the fittest and the healthiest I’ve been in a very long time, and this is the most confident I’ve been racing here at Notre Dame,” she says.
Seidel’s health and confidence were on display at the 35th annual National Catholic Championships held September 19th at Notre Dame’s nine-hole golf course. Seidel finished first among all 93 female DI runners, marking the 12th straight year that an Irish runner won the woman’s race.
“It was a combination of a lot of different things for me this year, ” Seidel says. “Being healthy has been huge, but seeing how prepared our team has been this year has me more excited for what we can accomplish as a team. The day also was special because my mom was in town and I was running on our home course.”
While she looks forward to the remainder of her cross country season with great anticipation, Seidel will turn her attention in December to another big moment when she heads to the American Anthropological Association Conference in Washington D.C., and presents her findings from her summer work in Ireland and Argentina.
Indeed, Molly Seidel is a cross country star in every sense of the word.