Audra Soderlind’s senior season had zigs and zags that a seasoned cross country runner typically would encounter on a tricky course.
But she emerged with a historic finish.
The Oswego senior and Iowa recruit started her year in strong fashion, but then had to weather two separate injuries that sidelined her for weeks before conference.
She returned to sweep conference, regional and sectional championships – the first Oswego runner to ever win the last two in the same season. And then, Soderlind capped it all off with her second All-State run at the Class 3A state meet.
She is the Record Newspapers girls cross country Athlete of the Year for the second straight season.
“It was definitely a lot different than other years, but it went by really quick,” Soderlind said. “So many different elements. It was definitely not in my plan to have a strained tendon and a strained ankle in two weeks. Just had to roll with the punches.”
That attitude, that ability to attack every bit of adversity thrown at her served Soderlind well at state. When she pulled up to Detweiller Park during the 2A boys race, the course was already torn up from runners and the pace truck.
“We all thought, at that point, times are not going to be great. It was about finding a rhythm at that point,” Soderlind said. “We knew footing would be difficult. The most challenging part of the course was the middle, it was so torn up, people were running left and right instead of just one pack. It was definitely an interesting race, one to remember.”
Oswego coach Alicia Rafferty noted that Soderlind’s strength is being consistent and excelling in that middle part of the race. Under less than ideal conditions, however, Soderlind managed the conditions and took 19th in 18:03.9.
“She is a resilient person, ready for anything that comes at her,” Rafferty said, “whether it’s running in two heats of the 3,200 and having to go after time, or whether it’s running in really muddy conditions with the understanding that she is not going to PR that day. She had to readjust that goal. She knew that one of her goals was to be All-State. That middle part of the race did not play to her strengths, but she powered through.”
It was not the first time this fall that Soderlind’s resiliency had shown through.
The Tuesday after Soderlind PR’d with a 17:31.1 in September at the Richard Spring Invitational in Peoria, she twisted her ankle on a long training run. She still raced at the Palatine Meet of Champions that weekend – “probably a poor decision on our part,” Rafferty reflected – and at the meet she was shoved from behind and did not feel right afterward.
Soderlind was not able to finish a subsequent workout the following Monday, and later found out she had a strained tendon.
She spent a week training on the elliptical, had to sit out the big Twilight Invite in Naperville and for a time wasn’t sure if she would run at conference.
“I finally got cleared and basically had to start with 3 miles coming off a midseason break,” Soderlind said. “Mentally, it was pretty challenging. I wanted to be in shape for conference. It was important for me, and my team.”
A completely different type of mental challenge followed in three successive postseason meets.
Running virtually by herself, Soderlind won the Southwest Prairie Conference meet by 10 seconds, the regional race by nearly 15 seconds and sectionals by eight seconds.
“The one thing that’s hard for Audra is she doesn’t race against a heck of a lot of people at her level. She spent a lot of the season racing by herself,” Rafferty said. “She wore ankle braces the rest of the season and did some incredible things running all by herself.”
Rafferty has noticed tremendous growth in Soderlind this season, in how she ran and also how she trained. She hit the weight room harder than ever before.
Soderlind said when she walked in freshman year she didn’t even think she could lift a 45-pound bar. With the help of Rafferty and other coaches, she’s built strength which has provided a confidence boost as a runner.
“She’s one of the first in the weight room doing mileage and definitely one of the last to leave,” Rafferty said. “It was one of her goals to be stronger throughout the season than the beginning. She is just so much fun to coach.”