Wolverine Athlete Spotlight: Jillian Smith
Jillian Smith

April 30, 2014

Fifth-year senior Jillian Smith recounts her time away from U-M doing an internship during the fall semester and discusses her return to competition, as well as receiving the Big Ten Medal of Honor.

On being away from U-M in the fall doing an internship ... "I went home to do an internship, so during that four-month period I taught kids about a local turtle species. I taught at all different schools all over New Jersey so that was really fun. At the same time, I was an assistant coach for my high school cross country team so I practiced with them most days. I'd also do a little bit of mileage by myself -- that was definitely the hard part -- because they don't do nearly as much mileage as college runners. I tried to do a lot of extra mileage and get in a couple hill workouts. They were doing all the strength stuff so that was easy for me to jump into. It was hard doing things on my own. It was a different atmosphere. I think I did a pretty good job of getting a good base. And then unfortunately I got injured coming back, but that comes with the territory of running for so long. It was great to see everybody compete in indoor because I went to the Big Ten meet. Being injured at that time and not being able to run was a sour moment because I wanted to get back so bad. But it made me appreciate the season that I have. I think that going home for a little bit and going back to the roots of running and not worrying about the stress of times and school was helpful. I could just focus and relax. I think that's been helpful carrying over into the outdoor season. Even though I was injured during a very large part of indoor, so I couldn't get that base, I feel like coming back to quickly has been fine because I have really good teammates like Jami Hill, who is going through the same thing. You also know it's your last season so you want it really bad."

On returning to the team and competition ... "I didn't know many of the freshmen coming in, except the other Jill Smith (laughing) from my high school, and I didn't know her that well because we were so far about in grades. It was nice to get to know the freshmen. The team has a really great atmosphere going on. The team captains are doing a great job, like Brook (Handler) especially -- she's leading the team really well. Coming back to that atmosphere where they're super determined and focused was rejuvenating to jump back in and know that the team is doing a great job. The hard part was doing the first race. Jami Hill and I have been practicing really hard every week -- sometimes our workouts are even harder than races. I'm glad I have her to work with, as well as Courtney Munley and Gina McNamara. Getting back into the flow of things has been really nice. Going to some nice places to race has been really great, too."

On feeling pressure to at the high level she has in past years ... "It's a very weird dynamic because being hurt you're out for so long and when you come back you're not able to do the things that you took for granted or were easier before the injury. That was a hard mental transition, but at this point, with one season left and after being injured, it's just been about having fun with it -- that's what coach Mike (McGuire) has been saying. I think having that pressure off where 'I need to hit these times at this meet, or I need to qualify for regionals now', I think it's been way more enjoyable. When I get in a race, I see it more as an opportunity, rather than a stressor. I've really enjoyed this type of training -- getting back into it and being able to appreciate it. I still feel the pressure that I need to get back, but that's just from me, not by anyone else."

On receiving the Big Ten Medal ... "I didn't know it was that prestigious of an award until right before the awards banquet. I was researching it a little bit and I was super honored to even be considered for it. The evening at the awards banquet was awesome. I got to talk to Diane Dietz and Dave Brandon and a bunch of great people. One of the guest speakers was from the Paralympics -- it was a really inspiring experience to hear him speak about his journey and being injured in the military. It was a very enlightening evening to see so many people from different places doing great things, and then to see all the student-athletes at Michigan and how they're able to balance the rigorous school work with the rigorous athletic competitions. One of the coolest things I heard was Diane Dietz said that the medal itself hasn't changed since it originated so it's cool to think about how many amazing, outstanding athletes have the same medal in their house. It's a cool connection with Michigan."

On graduating and her future plans ... "It's pretty crazy how fast it goes -- everyone tells you that and you don't really believe it until right before you graduate. Even this past year has flown by. I'm really excited to graduated, but at the same time I don't want to leave Ann Arbor and all the friends and people I've met here. As far as future plans, I'm planning to go back home to get a summer job to make some money first and then I'm planning to do a one-year alternate route teaching program. It's an accelerated program where you get your teaching certificate at the end. Some of the education classes that I've taken at Michigan with my environmental professor really inspired me and I think teaching is what I want to do with my career."

• Previous Spotlight: Erin Finn