locker room

Taking It All in Stride

The reigning MAC XC Freshman of the Year is a globetrotter in more ways than one

Cross-country runner Stephanie Ward hopes to qualify for the NCAA championships this year.

Cross-country runner Stephanie Ward hopes to qualify for the NCAA championships this year. Photo: Paul Hokanson

By David J. Hill

“I loved living outside of the U.S. It opened my eyes.”

The day after her last final exam in May, Stephanie Ward headed to Saudi Arabia with her twin brother to visit family for a few weeks. Then it was back to the United States for her sister’s wedding in Florida, followed by a cruise to Mexico.

Next was New York City for a few days, followed by a stopover at the family lake house in Honeoye—a tiny town near Rochester, N.Y.—and then a jaunt to Belgium before heading back to Saudi Arabia to visit more family. Then back to Buffalo just in time to start training for the fall cross country season.

Some people won’t travel that much in a lifetime, let alone one summer. But that’s life in a military family.

The Wards always had a home in Honeoye, but Jay Ward’s career in the U.S. Air Force took him and his family around the world. Born in Saudi Arabia, Stephanie lived at various times throughout her childhood in Saudi Arabia, Belgium, and Rome, Ga.

“I loved living outside of the U.S.,” Ward, a sophomore, says of her globe-trekking childhood. “It gives you the opportunity to experience things not many other people get to. It’s opened up my eyes more.”

The Wards are as athletic as they are itinerant. Stephanie’s father and grandfather both ran track; her mom, Claude, who is Belgian, used to compete in taekwondo, among other sports. The athletic genes were passed on to Stephanie, who competed in taekwondo and also played soccer, baseball, softball, golf and volleyball. She was a state champion runner at the Darlington School, a boarding school in Georgia where she completed her secondary education.

To satisfy her hankering for extremely warm running weather (“I prefer to run in 100-degree heat,” she says), Ward initially focused her college search on the American South.

She applied to only one northern school, UB, because she had relatives who had gone here. But after visiting campus and meeting with veteran Bulls track and field head coach Vicki Mitchell, she was sold. “I felt that Vicki was a great coach and I trusted in her,” Ward says.

Her trust has paid off. Though Ward broke several records in high school, she really began making strides when she started working with Mitchell at UB. “I’m still shocked by how well her training works,” says Ward, who went from running a 5K in just under 19 minutes during her senior year of high school to breaking 17 minutes in her first year at UB. Last fall, Ward was named MAC Freshman of the Year in cross-country. She continued her progress through the indoor and outdoor track and field seasons.

This year, Ward hopes to set new personal records and qualify for the NCAA championships. As an added incentive, UB is hosting the NCAA Division I Men’s and Women’s Cross Country Northeast Regional Championships in November.

While that means one less trip for Ward, she still gets to show off yet another place she can call home.