Patty O’Brien has seemed to be one step ahead of the competition in cross country and in school.
Coming into her fifth year at the University of Minnesota, O’Brien has completed her master’s degree in just four years. This year, she’s not only progressing toward the completion of an additional Human Resources Development certificate, but she has also served as a reliable runner for the Minnesota women’s cross country team.
Some cross country athletes improve as they grow older and develop; O’Brien has certainly been one of these cases, developing significantly during her tenure for the Gophers.
“I feel like I’ve learned to trust the process and that if you keep going at it, and working at it every day, you’ll keep getting better. You just have to put in the work if you want to see the results” O’Brien said. “As you get older you grow more confident in yourself.”
O’Brien’s confidence especially shined at the 2018 Roy Griak Invitational. While facing elite competition from across the nation, O’Brien lost one of her running shoes in the middle of the race, but refused to let it stop her.
“Patty lost her spike at the mile [mark] … which I didn’t even realize because she was running very well,” said head coach Sarah Hopkins. “She ran for three miles of the race basically without a shoe. On our course, with acorns and gravel, this is not easy to do. She got a pretty big personal record, and I think it could’ve been even bigger had she actually kept both of her shoes on.”
This year, Gophers athletes Megan and Bethany Hasz have set themselves apart from much of the competition. The remainder of the team has been looking to close the gap and run as a more cohesive unit and O’Brien has played a key part in the team’s effort to do this, especially in big moments.
At the Oz Memorial meet, she filled the spot of an injured Bethany Hasz and finished as the runner-up to Megan Hasz. Then, in the precursor to the Roy Griak Invitational, at the Coast-to-Coast Battle in Beantown meet in Boston, Massachusetts, O’Brien was Minnesota’s third-quickest racer behind Megan Hasz and a since-healed Bethany Hasz.
Her success this season can be attributed in part to lessons she has been able to learn over the course of her career in Minnesota. The young team now hopes it can take O’Brien’s example to some of the 22 underclassmen on its roster.
“I approach races more so knowing that I’ve done the work for the past four years, and so I definitely feel confidence in myself when I’m going to the trail,” O’Brien said. “When I was younger, I didn’t know if I could race as fast or race with the group. When you get older, you just believe in yourself.”