Women cross country’s Rachel McCardell talks passion for the sport and cross country experiences


Photo by Kevin Gunawan, courtesy of Rachel McCardell

Rachel McCardell, a senior cross country runner, crosses the finish line in first place at the Redbird Invitational at Illinois State.

Ella Jeffries, Reporter

Senior cross country runner Rachel McCardell started running when she was in fifth grade. Now, the Bloomfield Village, Michigan, native is finishing fifth in the Big Ten Championships after finishing first in two invitationals so far this season. 

Next week, she’ll lead her team in the cross country regional championship race at Iowa. We sat down with McCardell to chat about her passion for the sport, favorite experiences and biggest inspirations. 

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity. 

The Daily: What makes you so passionate about cross country?

McCardell: One, I’m very competitive by nature. I like to win, and that extends beyond just running. If you ask some people on my team why they do cross country, they’ll say, ‘Because I genuinely love to run.’ That’s never really been my answer. I like to run, I like my team, but I love competing and I love winning. Not necessarily being first place every time, but getting the most out of your body and accomplishing something as a team. 

Also, I grew up Christian. My youth group leader in high school always said, everything you have is a gift, everything’s a blessing, and to glorify God is to use those gifts to the best of your ability. During my races, when it starts to get painful, I remind myself I have the ability to do this and to use the gifts that God gave me.

The Daily: Is there a specific person who inspires you to run?

McCardell: There are three people I run for. First, my dad. He’s my best friend. We always ran together, and that was our quality bonding time. We’ve run together every single day for 10 years, and he’s always had a really big role in my athletics. I do a lot to make him proud of all the time and energy he invested in me as an athlete growing up. 

Then, my high school coach. He was incredible, and the one who taught me to never settle for less than what you can do.

And third, my current coach Jill Miller. She’s genuinely the best coach and strongest female role model I have ever had. She has poured so much into our program and into me as an athlete, so when I step on the line, I’m very much running for Jill too. I want to make her proud and make her feel like she made the right decision coming to Northwestern. 

The Daily: What has been your favorite experience with cross country?

McCardell: I have two main training partners. For the past two years, we’ve trained together every single day. But we have never raced together, which is just crazy. Being there for each other when you’re in so much pain — that’s the benefit of having teammates who you are super close with. They pull you through the hurt. 

This year at the Illinois State University race, we were finally racing all together. When we crossed the 4K, which is right about when it starts to get really painful, we were all next to each other. I remember looking over and realizing — okay. I’m really, really tired. But this is the first time ever that I’m at this point, and I have these two women beside me, and that was very exciting. 

The Daily: As a senior, you’re nearing the end of your athletic career. How does this make you feel?

McCardell: It’s kind of scary — it has been my foundation for so long, and I’m nervous not to have it. I’ll have to re-find my sense of purpose, but it does add an extra energy to the “now.” I go into every race thinking this could be the last time I’m on this course, and this could be the last time I’m competing against these women. 

This adds pressure, and it’s a little bittersweet, but it also makes it more important. It makes you stay present.


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