MONMOUTH — Grace Knapp was all set to compete in her final outdoor track and field season for the Western Oregon University Wolves.
The senior capped her final cross-country season by competing on the national stage in the 5,000-meters race, and she wanted another shot to compete among the best.
“I had made some crazy strides to becoming a 5k—exclusive runner,” Knapp said. “People would know who I was when I was in a race with them — and that was just a crazy feeling. Indoor (season) didn’t end how I really wanted, so I was just excited to prove to myself that I have this in me and I can go out and do this.”
She was in the library, studying, when the news came through that the spring sports season was canceled, halting any of the goals she had set forth.
“I had gotten a message from one of my friends who competes at Seattle Pacific, and she was like, ‘I saw the news, I’m so sorry, I know you’re a senior, I’m sure this is extra hard on you,’ and I didn’t even know what she meant,” Knapp said. “So I had to go and look it up. I think it was during finals weeks, so I already had so much on my mind that I couldn’t really focus on it all the way. It was definitely one of those where you read the news and it doesn’t feel real.”
Now, two months after the news came through, Knapp is trying to find a new normal.
“It was definitely a hard one to process,” she said. “I don’t think I fully understood what all it meant, and weeks went by and you’d be like, ‘oh we were supposed to be in California competing right now.’ And then we weren’t, obviously. I don’t know. It was definitely a shock.”
She misses the girls she used to train with.
“I’ve been missing all of my teammates, running with all the girls that I saw every single day for hours on end,” she said. “Not seeing them has been really hard for me.”
Running, even alone, is one of the things that’s helping her navigate things.
“It’s like the only thing that keeps me sane right now,” Knapp said, laughing. “I definitely don’t know what I would be doing right now if I didn’t have the normalcy of a run every day.”
Three years ago, she didn’t know if she’d be able to run at all after suffering an ankle injury during a race.
She said her perseverance during that time has a lot to do with her relationship with head coach Mike Johnson, who recently made the choice to retire from WOU.
“I owe a lot to Coach Johnson,” Knapp said. “He was an incredible coach and really believed in me in a way that I don’t think I would have stuck with it quite the same without a coach like him.”
Johnson thinks her ability to battle through a near career-ending injury speaks to Knapp’s character.
“Pretty much when they tell you you’re not going to run again and you didn’t accept that as an answer, I think that speaks for itself,” he said, chuckling.
Knapp will finish up her senior year in June; after that, she has plans to pursue grad school.
“I want to be a veterinarian, so I’ll go to vet school,” she said.
She’s hoping to be accepted into Oregon State University’s Carlson College of Veterinary Medicine.
“It’s close and I’d get to see my family frequently, plus I just love Corvallis,” Knapp said.
Her interest in becoming a veterinarian came during a particularly hard time in her life.
“When my dog had to be put down, it was really tough on me, but the vet was super kind and supportive in a way that made the experience less painful,” she said. “It was a small positive out of a sad situation that really impacted me.”
Soon she began volunteering at an animal shelter.
“I just fell in love,” she said. “Animals are so pure and have so much personality and ability to love, and I am really drawn to that.”
The National Collegiate Athletics Association has granted seniors who lost this season due to the Coronavirus another term of eligibility, which means Knapp has the chance to run competitively again.
It’s an idea she’s been toying around with.
“I will have another season of eligibility, but I doubt I could do that while being in a doctoral program like that,” she said.
Whatever she decides, running will be a part of Knapp’s future.
“Running means so much to me that I can’t picture myself ever giving it up,” she said.