Oct. 18, 2003
By Linda Chalich
To say that Cougar distance runner Anna Blue has a full "plate" would be an understatement. For the fifth-year senior from Olympia, Wash., the blue plate special is running 10 miles a day, and it is rarely offered at a reduced price. Everyday after the classes and volunteer work, and before the evening wedding planning sessions, Blue runs.
The five-foot, three-inch brunette is running toward a goal of competing at the NCAA Cross Country Championships. And becoming an All-American means long hours of training; running through dusty wheat fields and up chilly mountain trails, in the hot afternoons of August on the Palouse and through the cold rain and fog of late fall in Pullman. But that's what success does for a runner - it makes him or her want to run more.
Last fall, Blue began the most successful year of her collegiate career. After leading the Cougar women harriers all fall, she finished a personal-best 20th place at the Pacific-10 Conference Cross Country Championships. During the indoor season, Blue ran a school record time of 9-minutes, 42.22 seconds for 3000m and set another school record in the 5000m with a time of 16:35.18. The 5k time was 31st-best nationally, but Blue did make the cut for the NCAA Indoor Championships.
She moved to the outdoor oval and promptly lowered her the 5k school record time to 16:14.55 at the Stanford Invite. Blue ran her third school record of the year with a 10,000m time of 34:25.63 at the Mt. SAC Relays. At the Pac-10 Championships she finished seventh in 5k and fifth in the 10k races. Her sixth-place finish in the 5000m race at the NCAA West Regional earned another trip to the NCAA Outdoor Championships.
In what many thought was the capstone of her collegiate career, Blue finished sixth in the 5000m final at the NCAA Championships at Sacramento. She clocked in with a time of 16:21.92, and had to pass three runners in the final two laps for her All-America certificate.
But the Cougar coaches, namely Head Coach Rick Sloan and distance coach Jason Drake, had asked Blue to come back to run her last season of cross country eligibility long before the NCAA Outdoor Championships meet. Blue waited until after the national meet and her triumphant All-America race to tell the coaches she would return.
"We needed some more leadership on the cross country team," Blue said. "Ana (Cabrera) and I are the only ones who have ever gone to a Pac-10 track meet. Because we have so many freshmen, we needed people who have been there and done it. We needed more people to help guide them (freshmen) along."
While overseeing seven freshmen may have been the motivation to return, Blue knew she wanted to come back and see her collegiate career possibilities to completion. She remembers discussing the commitment with her fianc?e, former Cougar distance runner, Jon Welsh.
"You know I'm going to regret it if I don't go back and at least give it a shot," Blue recalls telling Welsh. "For the rest of my life, I know in my mind I'll be thinking, 'What if?' I'm only taking a couple of classes I need to graduate. I'm really trying to focus on my running and my training and it's going really well so far. Hopefully my races will start showing that soon."
Going to the NCAA Cross Country Championships, Nov. 24, at Cedar Falls, Iowa, would complete an already impressive competitive resume.
"I've never gone to nationals for cross country so I would really, really like to get there this year," Blue said. "Cross country is hard but it's a very different sport than track. I don't like it better or worse but it is more fun. We all do the same workout in cross country so we're together everyday. There aren't too many people out there who know what it feels like to have to go on a 10-mile run four days a week. I like having somebody to share the pain with and we have lots of camaraderie on our team."
Blue is an active "team" member in many aspects of her collegiate life. She was selected as one of the 2003-04 Cougar Pride Academic Salute recipients; 12 WSU junior or senior student-athletes who have demonstrated profound accomplishment in the community, classroom and on the playing field. Blue's classroom work this fall includes Geology 101, 'the one class I really have to have to graduate' and Psychology 230. She is also a Peer Academic Counselor (PAC), meeting weekly with freshmen student-athletes to help them with the transition from high school to collegiate life and studies. The business management major is also one of the WSU student-athletes who volunteers as a reading buddy, going to Pullman's Sunnyside Elementary school every Monday and Wednesday to spend a half an hour with a child.
"I have a first grade reading buddy named Megan who is wonderful," Blue said. "We read stories and we draw pictures. It's great."
Just five days and several states away from the NCAA Cross Country Championships, Anna Blue will marry Second Lieutenant Jon Welsh on the Oregon coast. The wedding color theme is crimson and gray.
"Wedding planning is kind of stressful, especially planning from a state away," Blue said.
Blue and Welsh became good friends after she joined the WSU cross country team after transferring from Northern Arizona, and during study sessions for a shared food science class. Welsh, a member of WSU's Army ROTC, graduated in May 2002, and asked Blue to marry him that August. He is currently stationed in Honolulu as a member of the 25th Infantry Division, Second Brigade out of Schofield Barracks. Blue said he is expecting a promotion to First Lieutenant soon, but is also scheduled to leave for Afghanistan Jan. 4, 2004.
"After the wedding Jon has to go back to Hawaii to train and be ready to go fight," Blue said. "I have to come back to Pullman by myself for a couple of weeks, take my finals, get a plane ticket and go to Hawaii for a couple weeks."
Post nuptials plans for Blue include either moving home and living with her parents and work or trying to run professionally.
"I'm waiting to see how cross country goes and see if I have any opportunities that look good," Blue said. "So far, most of the offers and opportunities would require me to sign a contract and move someplace for a year. I don't really want to commit myself to that if Jon is only going to be gone for six months. He's already going a month earlier than he was supposed to go. The guys there now have been there for a year and a half and they were only supposed to be there four months. You never know."
Looking back, Blue has no regrets.
"I feel like I've been really lucky," Blue said. "When I decided to transfer, coach Sloan was so great and he made such an effort to get me here. He made it so easy for me. The coaches have been awesome and so supportive. My teammates have been wonderful. I feel like I owe it to everybody to do as much as I can."