April 22, 2012
By Bernie Rosendahl, MSU Athletic Communications Contact for Track & Field and Cross Country.
EAST LANSING, MICH. - Senior Carlie Green has always identified with running - and running has always been her identity. But as she has grown as an athlete, student, and as an individual at Michigan State, Green has realized that her internal drive to succeed will bring a new formation of herself - one that will bring her achievements far greater than championships and personal bests.
Born in Southfield, Mich., and relocating to nearby Milford at an early age, Green was never really drawn to any of the typical marquee sports. Her connection with running began in elementary school when a P.E. teacher had her class participate in a running activity that involved circling the perimeter of the school's playground and collecting shoe charms. It was her first brush with any sort of competition.
"I remember getting out there and racing against all the of boys," Green recalls. "I'd like to think that's where it all started."
Green's formative years of competitive running began in the sixth grade and continued on through the ninth grade. But prior to her entering high school, Green was about to find out how good she possibly could be.
Her Milford High School running coach, Brian Salyers, introduced Green and her teammates to a series of low-key workouts that would not only test his athletes, but make the world of competitive running enjoyable instead of grueling. One these workouts was "Wacky Wednesday", a drill on the toboggan hills of Kensington Metro Park that involved a series of hill repeats.
Green crushed the workout.
Green recalls Salyers pulling her aside. "I've never seen someone run these hills like you," he said to me. "You have no idea how good you can be. You have a future in this and you have the potential to be very good and having this gift will make it fun."
The fuse was ignited.
The realization of this gift would be all it would take for a then 15-year old Carlie Green to pursue the sport she would inevitably be so good at. A year later, the momentum of these workouts would carry Green to the 2004 MHSAA Division 1 Cross Country Finals where she finished fourth as only a sophomore.
"I went into the state meet with no pressure and all of sudden of I'm chasing down the girl who would be the state champ", Green recalls. "I still had two more years of school and from there I just wanted run and have fun and challenge myself."
Green would embark into training following the season without limits. But with a substantial amount early success, Green's running career at Milford would lead to a new identity that she humbly and sometimes reluctantly embraced.
In her senior year, a season which saw Green win every race on the team's schedule, she became overwhelmed with the pressure to perform and the reality that she was about to compete in her last cross country meet. In the evening prior to the 2006 MHSAA Finals, Green retreated to the lake behind her parent's home and sat at the edge of a dock situated on their property. Green would unwind, collect her thoughts, and decompress. It was here that she realized pressure was part of the journey, and that it meant coming into her own as a runner. Running would become the bridge to many of decisions she would make as she grew into an adult.
The gift would become the guidance - but not her identity.
"I had make myself realize that this was just something that I do, it's not who I am," recalled Green.
Green went on to win the state championship the next day with a time of 17:49. She was later named Ms. Cross Country for the state of Michigan.
Before the completion of her senior year, Green became a part of the college recruitment process and was faced with several options when it came choosing the school where she would spend the next four to five years as a student athlete. A top-flight recruit, she drew the interest of the University of South Florida, the University of Michigan, the University of Wisconsin, and Michigan State. She took visits to each school, with Michigan State being her first.
"Before I took my recruiting visit, coach Salyers told me to keep an open mind because I was going to be impressed and wooed anywhere I went," said Green. "But after my visit to MSU, my dad picked me up in his car and I told him `I'm coming to Michigan State, I don't need to go anywhere else'."
An additional deciding factor came when head coach Walt Drenth visited the Green residence for dinner.
"I remember meeting Coach Drenth and remember him stating `I want to turn Michigan State into an "It" school - I came here to develop this program'," Green said.
She continued, "With other schools that have had previous success, it felt like I was jumping on the train. With Michigan State, it was more about building the program. I wanted to be given the opportunity to be a part of the journey. After meeting Coach Drenth, I had to run for him."
Another reason Green chose Michigan State was that she respected the honesty of Drenth.
"He will never fabricate anything," Green added. "He sat down with me and told me that I could be an awesome college runner and that he believed that I could be a standout in this program. To hear someone say that - and not because they want you to join their program - proved to me that he wanted me to be the best I possibly could be. Looking back, I cannot imagine being anywhere else. I'm where I'm at today because of Coach Drenth."
Green officially became a Spartan, and in the summer of 2007 she made the trip up north to the team's first unofficial session of workouts in the Leelanau Peninsula of northern Michigan.
Green does confide that the experience was overwhelming at first.
"I was running with 22-year olds who were more experienced", Green said. "The workouts were difficult but I remember walking away and thinking I can do it - and I can get through it."
In her first two years with the program, Green spent a bit of time figuring out her place within the team. However, it didn't take much effort for her realize the unique dynamics of her squad. At this point, she discovered that through a combined effort, great things were on the horizon for the young program.
"I remember walking away from meets as a sophomore and we all (the team) knew there was more," Green recalled. "When I got here I was with great athletes like Nicole Bush, Lisa Senakiewich, and Sarah Price who helped establish the program. Being on the team with them, they had just as much as an influence in shaping us as Coach Drenth did."
During this period, Green also developed as one of the top competitors for both the cross county and track programs. In 2009, Green was named to the NCAA Great Lakes All-Region Team after an 11th-place finish at the NCAA Great Lakes Regional meet. She would also find success in track that season, running a personal-best 4:26 in the 1500 meters.
Even better things were to come in 2010 for Green and her teammates in the following cross country season. The team's top training group which included Green, Emily MacLeod, Katie Haines, and Rebekah Smeltzer gained an additional three to four runners who could hit similar times in practice.
"We knew that we were getting good," Green recollects.
In the moments prior to the 2010 Big Ten Cross Country Championship meet, Green recalls being in a team huddle and every member of the team making eye contact with one another. An acknowledgement that all the work they had put in was about to pay off.
"When we won the Big Ten Championship in 2010 it was like being on cloud nine," Green said.
The team would later go on to claim another Big Ten title in cross country in 2011, defeating rival Michigan by five points.
"I remember going into that meet as defending Big Ten Champions and having this target on our backs," said Green. "People were looking for green and white uniforms as people they had to beat. It was very humbling. Winning the second time was what we expected for our program. All of the things coach Drenth had said to us the past of couple of years -it was finally happening. We became a name in the Big Ten."
Aside from team success, Green has also made a name for herself as a Spartan with her personal achievements. She's a Big Ten Distinguished Scholar, a two-time All-Big Ten selection, a 2011 recipient of MSU's Big Ten Sportsmanship Award, and a six-time Academic All-Big Ten honoree.
Outside of these accomplishments, Green credits success to her support network.
"Going to practice every day and seeing my teammates will be something I miss," said Green. "Those girls are my best friends. The people who jump straight to my mind are people like Rebekah Smeltzer, Tiffany Evans, Emily Langenberg, and Liz Watson. They are people who have been on the team with me for five years and have gone through this experience. We came into this together and will leave together."
Her immediate family has also played a major role in Green's career as an athlete.
"I don't know what my dad is going to do now," jokes Green. "He's been so involved with my running for the past 13 years. They've been unbelievable. I owe a lot to them - to drive across the country to attend a meet and get on a plane to watch a single race."
She added, "I'm so thankful for them and how positive and optimistic they've been and always so proud of me regardless of the outcome."
Green also cites coach Drenth as major conduit for her success and the overall success of the program.
"He is very gifted in the way that he communicates," said Green of Drenth. "When he shares his hopes and beliefs on what our program can be, we buy into it. He's one of the best coaches in the NCAA, and it's evident with the women's program and where it's going. I wish I could come back here for another five years and hop on the train and have this journey all over again."
Green has a busy future ahead after she crosses the finish line for last time. She'll be leaving Michigan State with a double major, earning her first undergraduate this past December in Psychology and earning her second degree at the end of the spring semester in Communications. She plans to attend Wayne State University next January for a post-bachelor program in Speech-Language Pathology.
In the fall of 2013, Green hopes to return to East Lansing for graduate school, a place that has shaped her as runner and an individual. The Carlie Green who will return to campus more than a year from now will be far different than one who arrived in 2007.
"My perspective has changed," Green said when describing the differences between the younger and older versions of herself. "It was very easy for me to define myself as just a cross country runner back then. But in the past couple of years I've realized that I can close the door on this part of my life and it's going to be OK. This is something that I'm going to miss a tremendous amount but I'm excited for the things to come and for the future. I understand that there is so much more than this - and it's very freeing and humbling."