Feb. 6, 2008
By Darren Shimp
While many local college students continue to struggle to adapt to the unrelenting winter weather, Eastern Washington University student Mattie Bridgmon still runs outdoors every morning. She accrues 8-16 miles per day, sometimes more, leaving trails in the snow and fear of falling in her wake.
"I've only fallen once," said Bridgmon, who prefers to run outside, as the outdoors provide more appealing scenery compared to the monotony of the short track in the Jim Thorpe Fieldhouse.
The junior exercise science major has only been running competitively since high school, yet she is now captain for both the Eagle cross country team and the distance runners on Eastern's track and field team. She is among the Big Sky Conference's elite for both.
All of which, she says, is nothing compared to running in the elevation of the Andes Mountains.
Bridgmon had the opportunity to spend time in Ecuador last August with her boyfriend and fellow Eagle distance runner Curtis Suver.
"It was awesome," said Bridgmon. "My mom was in the Peace Corps there focusing on environmental education, so I went to visit her and hang out for a month."
During her visit, she continued her running regimen. Some of the mountain climbs left her in elevations exceeding 8,000 feet.
"It was so hard in the high elevation," said Bridgmon of the prominent treks. "We would run straight uphill for 4-5 miles then back down."
During her time in the Amazon rainforest near Quito, Bridgmon's Spanish minor came in handy when dealing with the locals.
"It was really hard the first week just understanding people, but after that (it was fine)," said Bridgmon.
Not getting serious about running until her junior year of high school in Laramie, Wyo., Bridgmon's choices for college and opportunities to continue running competitively were limited. Her selections were down to walking on at EWU, UNLV, Utah, Wyoming and NCAA Division II member Western New Mexico.
Never one to back down from a challenge, Bridgmon tried out for the Eagle cross country team and was successful, earning a spot on the squad and a pair of running shoes.
Since then she has earned an athletic scholarship for her efforts and has seen her role steadily increase.
"She is a leader, both as a person and as a runner," said cross country head coach Chris Zeller, who also is an assistant coach for the track squad. "She's one of the hardest workers on the team.
"She's one who would try to push the limit a little bit in terms of mileage, and now there's a group of four that is running more mileage than any of the girls five years ago."
Bridgmon loves it here in the Inland Northwest, despite it being 1,000 miles from home. The small-town feel of Cheney, similar to that of Laramie, is a comfortable habitat. This weather is not that bad to her either, as she says the wind and the cold is not nearly as harsh, which makes running near campus more tolerable, despite some obstacles.
"All the trails are snowed over, so we have to run on the street," said Bridgmon, who runs more than 80 miles per week, most of which are done outdoors.
According to Zeller, the rough terrain of the snow and ice is not all bad for the runners, as long as they are aware of their surroundings and look for slippery spots.
"Because the ground is uneven, you are going to end up using a bigger variety of muscles in terms of ankle stability and hips; all of those things will make you a stronger runner," said Zeller.
Battling flu symptoms amidst the winter elements, Bridgmon has yet to compete in the brief January/February indoor track season, which is generally regarded as a tune up for the spring slate. But with Andean mountain climbing and Cheney ice dodging checked off her list, the Big Sky opponents should be a walk in the park for Bridgmon come outdoor track season.
Bridgmon is coming off a stellar fall campaign, finishing fifth at the Big Sky Championships, 20th at the NCAA West Regional Championships and 64th at the NCAA Championships. She has set personal goals to qualify for both regional and national championships at the end of this spring's track season.
When her time as an Eagle ends, Bridgmon plans to attend graduate school and work with cardiac patients, doing lab research on the heart and lungs to see how they react to exercise. She could also see herself coaching somewhere down the road, whether it be icy or not.