by Duane Cochran for FightingFalcons.com
Much like Forrest Gump one day Laura Horning just got the urge to run.
And Fairmont State University's women's cross country team is certainly glad she did.
Since arriving on FSU's campus in August of 2011 Horning has competed in 10 collegiate cross country meets for the Falcons and has finished first among her FSU teammates in an astounding nine of those events.
Not too shabby for an individual who had never run a competitive cross country meet at any level prior to coming to FSU.
“I had always wanted to compete in a sport in college,” said Horning, a senior who participated in soccer in high school but found team sports to be a bit too stressful for her liking. “When I decided to transfer here for my junior year I knew I wanted to join the cross country team so I started training a lot during the summer at home. We live in the country and I ran on a lot of back country roads.”
Horning's first collegiate cross country meet took place in Greensburg, Pa., at the Griffin Invitational hosted by Seton Hill University. She finished 10th overall and second on her team in 24:50 on the 6K course to Lacee Fulton, who placed ninth overall in 24:17. As a team, FSU's women ended up tied for second.
Afterwards Horning, instead of being thrilled, admits she had second thoughts about what she had committed herself to doing.
“I remember that day was very hot and on that course you go about a mile-and-a-half down hill and then a mile-and-a-half right back up the hill,” she said. “Afterwards I said to myself, 'I'm never doing this again.' I seriously thought about quitting the team. It was painful and honestly I wasn't sure I could take it.”
Horning obviously changed her mind and since that first meet has gone on to record nine consecutive first-place finishes among her teammates for FSU.
“It's still painful and I wouldn't say I love running, but I do love our team and our coaching staff,” she said. “Mary (Mlinarcik, the Falcons' head coach) is great. She genuinely cares about all of us and pushes us to be our best. The team is great too. We have some very talented runners who are intense. They only want to improve and get better and they are definitely doing that. Our captain, Alana Coen, is excellent too. She really pushes us to be our best.”
Horning is no stranger to hard work. She and her four siblings, brother Luke and sisters Leah, Lori and Lynae, grew up working on the family's dairy farm in tiny Berlin, Pa.
“My parents knew they wanted to have a lot of kids to help out with the farm,” said Horning with a laugh. “We all grew up helping. It was our life for a number of years. It's not quite as big now as it once was because my parents are getting older and we're getting older and starting to leave and do our own things.
“Our parents, though, have always been very supportive of us doing what we want to do. We've never felt the pressure to have to take over the farm or anything like that, but at the same time we all have an interest in it.”
This past summer Laura talked her younger sister Lori into attending FSU and competing in cross country as well. Like her older sister, Lori had never competed competitively in the sport until this fall.
“She's my best friend and I really sold her on the idea of coming here, rooming with me and competing in cross country,” said Horning. “I knew we could have a good time together. She's very competitive, but because she had to help out a lot on the farm she did not have the chance to compete in sports. Now she's getting that chance and I think she enjoys it. Like me, she really likes the team and I'm hoping when I leave she'll still continue to run competitively.”
Horning started college at Allegany College of Maryland's Somerset (Pa.) County campus so she could be close to home and help out with the farm. After her freshman year she transferred to Potomac State University in Keyser to explore that school's programs in agriculture.
Following her sophomore year there she transferred to Fairmont State University where she is majoring in Heath Science with a minor in nutrition. She's on track to graduate in May and in the future would like to work with a small town's health department or WIC to help promote good nutrition and healthy foods.
“Originally I wanted to do something with agriculture but now I'm leaning much more to the nutrition side of things,” she said. “Food fascinates me. I was in 4-H growing up and I really like that and I also spent time working with extension agents.
“What I'd really like to do in the future is work for a public health department, WIC or some type of program which promotes health in the community. I'd love to work with local farmers and promote good food and good health within a community.”
As for her future as a runner?
“Competitively that'll probably end when the season ends for us this fall,” she said with a laugh. “But, I still think I'll run to stay active and in shape. I love to eat and I run so I can eat. I believe the body is a temple and it's ours to take care of. In the future, though, my running won't be so intense and therefore I believe I'll probably enjoy it a little more.”