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Broderick tries new sport, runs to new heights

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In her first year as a competitive runner, Megan Broderick has emerged for UK's cross country team. (Chet White, UK Athletics) In her first year as a competitive runner, Megan Broderick has emerged for UK's cross country team. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
For four years, Megan Broderick was the best player on the Kentucky tennis team. She played No. 1 singles each season, winning 64 matches and ranking as high as No. 55 in the nation before concluding her tennis career in the spring of 2011.

At that point, most athletes would be ready to call it a career, but Broderick just isn't built that way.

Instead, Broderick opted to take advantage of an NCAA rule that allowed student-athletes a fifth year of eligibility in a second sport, joining the cross country and track team for the 2011-12 season. The same competitiveness and determination that propelled her to a decorated tennis are what ultimately drove her to her second Division I career.

"Growing up, I played a lot of different sports and I've always had that competitive spirit in me," Broderick said. "It wasn't really a thought of mine whether I was going to fail or succeed. I just really wanted to do it. I thought that I could help the team in cross country and track."

To say Broderick has helped the team in her first two months as a competitive runner would be an understatement. In four races as a member of the cross country team, she has emerged as one of UK's top runners, finishing no worse than third among her Wildcat teammates.

"It's definitely a little bit of a surprise to me how well I'm doing right off the bat," Broderick said. "I owe a lot of that to the girls. They've really accepted me onto the team and the coaches and trainers have all done a great job working with me to allow me to be comfortable in the new environment."

Don Weber, head cross country and track coach, sees things a bit differently. He learned a great deal about Broderick's willpower and talent before taking her on the team, and had an inkling this kind of success would be on the horizon, but maybe not so quickly.

"I'm not really surprised she's doing well based upon what I know about her," Weber said, "but she's doing better than I thought she would do."

Chance training room meeting starts it all

Broderick was already planning on returning to UK for a fifth year. She had one class to finish up before her planned graduation in December and had heard about and researched the rule that would ultimately allow her to participate in cross country and track. Coaches don't often find themselves recruiting current college seniors, but that's exactly what Weber did when he ran into Broderick.

"Last year, sometime during the school year we bumped into each other in the training room and I knew she was a fourth-year senior," Weber said. "I asked her if she had any school beyond this. She said she did and I said 'Would you consider running in your fifth year?' "

Broderick didn't think too much about the possibility at first, but there were a few classes she knew she would like to take other than the one she needed to graduate. Weber continued to talk to Broderick about joining the team, appealing to the passion for running she had always had even during her tennis career. Ultimately, Broderick gave Weber the "yes" he was looking for.

"Based on how impressed I was with her, how much want-to she had and her very keen interest in doing this, I decided to invest in her and we'll see where it goes," Weber said.

Developing a plan

There was still the small matter of Weber actually seeing his newest runner in action. As soon as she finished the tennis season, Broderick went on a run with Weber looking on. Fortunately, the investment Weber had decided to make in her immediately looked like a good one.

"I was relieved and impressed that she could run pretty well," Weber said. "She looked pretty good and the pace she was running for those three miles was pretty good. After that run, we came into the field house and she did a couple of 200's to get a sense of her speed and how she might run on the track. That was impressive too."

The next step was to begin training. Broderick wasn't in Lexington for much of the summer, but she stayed in close contact with Weber throughout. He assigned her specific workouts with one preeminent concern in mind.

"I didn't have a whole lot of concerns because I was so impressed with her, but the biggest concern was regarding training," Weber said. "Since she had a relatively limited background in running, I didn't want to have her do too much too soon and her body not be ready for that."

The first race

When the season opening race, the Belmont-VU Opener, rolled around, Broderick expected her nerves to be jangling. She had participated in "one or two" races on the cross country team in high school, but this was another level. To her surprise, she was relatively calm on the course, mostly thanks to all her experience on the tennis court.

"I really thought I was going to be more nervous than I was," Broderick said. "Playing a tennis match, you're out there by yourself and everyone's watching you while in a cross country meet, you're running in a pack so eyes are not directly on you as much."

Her debut was an unmitigated success. She finished in 16th place overall and third on the team with a time of 14:53.73. In some ways, it's what she doesn't know that allowed her to start so quickly.

"She's not afraid of hills, she's not afraid of distance, she just competes and attacks," Weber said. "Other people who have done cross country longer, they know those things are additional challenges and, instead of freely accepting them, there's a measure of intimidation. She doesn't have any of that."

As the season has progressed, Broderick has only gotten better. In the team's last race, she turned in her best performance. The Panorama Farms Invitational two weeks ago was UK's longest race of the season so far (6K) and, for the first time in her career, Broderick was the first Wildcat to finish. With a time of 22:28.51, she finished 23rd overall in a strong field.

Broderick's precociousness would suggest it all comes easily for her, but she's gotten a firsthand education in what makes running competitively so different from running to stay in shape.

"I think the biggest difference is the amount of mental toughness it takes," Broderick said. "During my four years of playing tennis at UK, I became a better athlete, not only physically, but also mentally. When you're running races, it's painful and what gets you through is the ability to overcome that pain and be mentally tough."

Cross country season has 'flown by', track on the horizon

With all regular season races completed, UK's focus now turns to the postseason, which begins with the SEC Championships on Oct. 31 in Maryville, Tenn. The brief season has gone by very quickly for Broderick, though she knows there is a lot to look forward to in the coming weeks.

"It's flown by," Broderick said. "Every race, there's a lot of pressure to compete as best you can because there aren't many. We have SEC's and regionals coming up so hopefully we can perform well."

Broderick is optimistic about her and her team's prospects in the postseason, but she admits she doesn't know quite what to expect. Whenever the season does end, though, she'll jump right into training for track. Weber said he expects Broderick to focus on middle distances races such as the 800-meter and mile and he looks forward to seeing her compete in the more intimate atmosphere of track. Weber, though, called every day a "discovery" with Broderick, but there's one thing he knows he can always expect.

 "I expect it to be a whole lot of fun working with her and it will be inspiring to see what she can do," Weber said. "The one thing I know for certain is we'll get her best, because that's the way she is."

'You run the way you do because of the way you are'

Megan Broderick was a standout in tennis at UK for four years before joining cross country and track. (Chet White, UK Athletics) Megan Broderick was a standout in tennis at UK for four years before joining cross country and track. (Chet White, UK Athletics)

Broderick may not go on to set any records or win any national titles during her one year as a runner, but she has come to represent everything Weber looks for in an athlete.

"I've done this for a long time and in terms of attitude, enthusiasm and personal stake in it, she's one of the best we've ever had in that respect," Weber said. "We have a saying around here: 'You run the way you do because of the way you are.' I think she's a pretty good example of that."

She isn't ready to start thinking too much about her legacy or just how unique she is for participating in two Division I sports at such a high level, but Broderick expects to feel graciousness more than anything else when she does reflect on her time at UK.

"I'm really thankful that (head tennis) coach (Carlos) Drada and (assistant tennis) coach (Kevin) Calhoun were able to develop me as a tennis player and to have the success I did in that," Broderick said. "Then, to run across Coach Weber and to have this awesome opportunity is amazing. I'll just really be thankful for all the people, all the experiences and all the competition I was able to enjoy."

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1 Comment

I enjoyed reading about Meagan's success at UK. I will never forget the leadership and kindness that she showed my daughter Sara when she was a freshman on Meagan's high school tennis team here in Tampa. Meagan is a winner in and out of sports.

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  • Brad Shepherd: I enjoyed reading about Meagan's success at UK. I will never forget the leadership and kindness that she showed my read more