Arlington, VA – Since 1996, the Road Runners Club of America has awarded grants totaling over $450,000 through the Roads Scholar® program. The goal of the program is to assist American post collegiate runners who show great promise to develop into national and world-class road running athletes. The grants awarded by the RRCA go directly to the athletes to help support their goals of becoming world-class distance runners. While traditionally the RRCA has distributed six grants, the strong credentials and impressive potential of this year’s pool of applicants, coupled with the ability to lay the groundwork for qualification in the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics afforded the expansion of the 2013-14 class to eight recipients.
The RRCA Roads Scholar selection Committee for 2013 included Carl Sniffen (Chair), Mike Morgan (Roads Scholar-2005), Amy Begley (Roads Scholar-2002, Olympian), Joan Benoit Samuelson (Olympian), Don Kardong (Olympian), Phil Stewart, Bee McLeod, Brent Ayer, and Jean Knaack.
The RRCA is pleased to introduce and congratulate the 2013-2014 Class of Roads Scholars.
An accomplished high school soccer player in his native Charleston, SC, Atkins attended High Point University (N.C.) on a scholarship where he appeared in 76 games in his 4 years as a midfielder. At the conclusion of his soccer career, Atkins approached Mike Esposito, the Track and Cross Country coach at High Point, and asked if he could begin running with the team. The switch to running proved fruitful as he showed very early a talent for the sport, running 9:04 for 3K and 15:18 for 5K mere weeks after joining the team.
In his two short years training under Coach Esposito, Atkins ran 14:17 for 5k and 29:20 for 10k, the latter mark being the number 2 all-time performance in school history, as well as earning 3 All-Big South Conference awards. These early moments of success attracted the attention of Pete Rea at ZAP Fitness, which he joined in 2010. During his first year as a professional runner he ran the fastest road 8k of any American in 23:18. In 2012, he bettered that mark running 22:50 and also clocked 14:19 for 5k on the roads. This past winter, he qualified for the USA Indoor Track Championships in the 3,000m by way of his 8:00 performance in Boston. In May, he ran 47:43 for 10 miles in Philadelphia, which was the second fastest time any American had run on the Broad Street course in the past 10 years. Atkins is now five years into training and is committed to making sure his best days lay ahead of him. He plans to run the U.S. Half Marathon Championships in Houston next January with the hope of making his first of many U.S. teams.
“I am deeply thankful for the RRCA’s belief in my running career and am humbled that I have been chosen as a 2013 Road Scholar,” Atkins explained. “This grant will provide me with added motivation and confidence as I push towards reaching my limits and representing my country at the highest levels.”
Going into high school in Cedar Rapids, IA, Nelson was focused much more on competing in other sports, such as volleyball, basketball, and especially swimming. Prior to her sophomore year, her high school coach convinced her to do both swimming and cross-country, helping Nelson discover that she had potential in distance running. Finishing second both her sophomore and senior year, and the winning state cross-country championship in 2006 showed her this was something she could do in college. Nelson decided to go to Iowa State University after being recruited by Coach Corey Ihmels. After some injuries and setbacks, she made a big jump in performance in 2011-2012 and gained All-American status in all three seasons, finishing 17th in cross-country, 4th indoors for 5K, and 4th in the 10K outdoor. She capped this season by running in the Olympic Trials in Eugene, OR. In her final year she accrued All-American status in cross-country and in the 10K outdoors. She assisted her Iowa State team to two Big 12 championships in cross-country and in 2013 she became the Big 12 champion in the 10K. Overall, she is a 5-time All-American and is also the 7th fastest 10,000 meter athlete in NCAA history. Her collegiate PR’s are 9:16 in the 3K, 15:51 for 5K, and 32:14 for 10K.
With collegiate success came the desire to continue to pursue running as a professional career. Nelson attended RunPro Camp in 2013 as an invited athlete. Recently she has moved out to the hills of Boise, ID, to continue training under Coach Ihmels and to act as a volunteer assistant for the Boise State Track and Cross Country teams.
“Wow! I am so thankful and excited to be selected as a grant recipient by the Roads Scholar committee,” noted Nelson. “I hope to be a good representation for RRCA as I continue this journey throughout the next year and beyond.”
Pappas grew up in Alameda, CA. In high school, she won six HAAL Championships—five in running and two in soccer. She played on the Cal North State Olympic Development Soccer Team. When Alexi did finally fall in love with running in college, she fell hard. Literally, Alexi has fallen running many-a-steeple chase and Cross Country race, but has captured success along the way.
As a proud Dartmouth Big Green, she finished third in the steeplechase at the 2012 NCAA Outdoor meet, and holds the 2012 Ivy League Title and Dartmouth school record in the event. She ran the lead leg on Dartmouth’s third place distance medley relay squad at the 2012 NCAA Indoor Championships and qualified for the 2012 U.S. Olympic Trials in Eugene as a steeple chaser. Alexi is a 7 time All-American. After graduating as a runner at Dartmouth College, she finished her remaining two seasons of eligibility at University of Oregon, and helped lead the team to a team NCAA title in the 2012 cross country and 2013 indoor track seasons. She finished 8th Nationally at the 2012 Cross Country National Championships, and 6th Nationally in the 2013 Indoor 5k, and 8th nationally in the 2013 Indoor 3k (PR: 9:07). She recently finished as the 8th American Nationally at the 2013 US Champs in the Women’s 3k Steeplechase (with a PR of 9:46), before finally taking her first steps on the roads.
This summer, Alexi discovered and came to love the world of road racing. After braving the hills at the Bix 7-mile race, Alexi finished as the second American in the TD Beach to Beacon 10k Road Race. She was most recently the first American finisher at the 2013 Falmouth Road Race in Falmouth, Massachusetts, as well as the 3rd place female finisher at the US Champs CVS 5K Road Racing Champs in Providence, RI—her first outdoor 5k (15:34). Now training under Mark Rowland with the Oregon Track Club Elite, Alexi looks forward training and competing with her new team.
While Alexi ran as a proud Oregon Duck in Eugene, her first narrative feature film which she co-wrote, Tall as the Baobab Tree, toured the international circuit at festivals like Rotterdam, San Francisco, and London. Alexi looks forward to writing and filming her second feature film (set in the world of distance running!) this year as she explores new territory in the competitive running world.
“I am honored to join the impressive collection of RRCA Roads Scholars as a member of the 2013 class,” explained Pappas. “It is a privilege to be supported by the RRCA. Having the chance to further connect with the running community will make a huge difference for me. The RRCA feels like a new team, and team is the best. I look forward to new running adventures ahead– thank you, RRCA, I will try to make you proud!”
Pennel grew up in Golden, CO, playing soccer and baseball. While attending Golden High School, he was convinced by his father to give Cross Country a try. He quickly found out that he was the best runner on the team. Throughout high school he continued to improve while setting school records in the 1600m (4:25) and 3200m (9:49).
After high school Pennel attended Western Colorado State University where under the guidance of Coach Jennifer Michel, he was able to become one of the most decorated Mountaineers in school history. Pennel earned 11 All-American Honors and 12 RMAC All-Conference Honors. Pennel had a breakout season in the fall of 2011 finishing second at NCAA DII National Cross Country meet and running the seventh fastest 10,000m time in DII history (28:23). Later that spring, he won the 10,000m and finishing runner up at the DII National Track and Field Meet.
Since leaving Western State College, Pennel has joined training group ZAP Fitness/Reebok based in Blowing Rock, NC. His first year as a professional runner has been very successful, placing top 10 at three different USATF National Championships, culminating in a 7th place finish at the USATF 10km National Road Championships on July 4th. He also lowered many of his track personal bests in the spring. He attended the 2013 RunPro Camp as the athlete representative for ZAP Fitness. Pennel plans to continue to live and train in North Carolina with the focus on runner faster times, as well as become more competitive on the national stage. He also intends to race a marathon by the end of 2014.
“I would like to thank the Road Runners Club of America for offering me the Roads Scholar Grant. I will use this grant to further develop my running career and the goals that I have set for myself. I am excited for this coming year, both for my own running and representing RRCA, which has given me this great opportunity.”
Born in Ethiopia, Procter was adopted at age ten by Jim and Caryl Proctor and began running competitively as a high school senior in Vermont. While his school did not have a track team, he was fortunate to train with Jeff Johnson of Lebanon, NH, who really shaped Gabe’s early running and remains a respected advisor. By coming in second in the state in the indoor 3200m that year, he caught the eye of the Cross Country coach at Garden City Community College (GCCC) in Kansas. After helping GCCC to two national third-place finishes, he moved on to Western Colorado State University’s team under the guidance of Coach Jennifer Michel. Despite some initial struggles with the increased level of competition, Proctor’s commitment to training and perseverance paid off. In 2011, he was a leading member of WCSU’s NCAA Division II National Championship Cross Country team. In 2013, he won the individual national championship in the outdoor 10K with a time of 28:58 and 5K with a time of 13:55.
Proctor attended the 2013 RunPro Camp as an invited athlete. Now running professionally for Mammoth Track Club under Coach Andrew Kastor, Proctor ran a 1:04:38 half marathon in October 2013, a time that qualifies him for the 2016 U.S. Olympic marathon trials.
““I am what I am today, because of everyone that has helped me. From my adoptive parents who enabled me to reach for something bigger than myself and encouraged me to reach for the stars, to my coaches who never gave up on me, I’ve been lucky to have so many people in my life who believed in me and gave me an opportunity. In return, I have always capitalized on the opportunities I have been given. I would like to thank the RRCA for the incredible support the Road Scholars grant is to me. Trust me; I expect to capitalize on your support as well!”
Suver graduated from Laramie High School in Laramie, WY. She originally joined the track team as a way to stay in shape for volleyball, and did not run Cross Country until her senior year. She was never a standout in high school, placing 17th in the state cross country meet, and never breaking 20 minutes for the 5K, but she fell in love with the sport and knew that she wanted to continue running in college. Mattie walked on to Eastern Washington University. She ultimately earned a scholarship and made it to the NCAA Division I Cross Country and Track Nationals. She graduated in three years and attended the University of Oregon for graduate school where she completed her final two years of running eligibility. She was a three time Division I All-American at University of Oregon.
Suver attended the 2011 RunPro Camp and quickly became a standout. She joined the BRC/adidas team and American Distance Project under Coach Scott Simmons in July of 2012. Since that time, her running career has really taken off. She has posted personal bests in every distance she’s raced, from 10K (32:29) to half marathon (1:11:56) since joining. She was the 2012 Club Cross Country Champion, earning a spot on Team USA for the Bupa Edinburgh XC, and was a member of the 2013 World XC Team, placing 26th overall, and 3rd for Team USA. She looks forward to continued improvement in all distances from 5K to the marathon, hopefully beginning with the ING New York City Marathon this coming November.
“I am extremely honored to be selected as a 2013 recipient of the RRCA Roads Scholar grant,” explained Suver. “Opportunities like this are what allow us as distance runners to continue pursuing our dreams, and I am very grateful to have the support of the Road Runner’s Club of America.”
Tapia began running as a sophomore at North Monterey County High School in Castroville, CA, initially as a means of getting in better shape for soccer season. However, thanks to the success of his team, and the close-knit environment fostered by coaches Bruce White and Gustavo Ibarra, he fell in love with the sport. Though he had moderate success competing at Hartnell Community College, where he ran a 14:35 5K and on University of California Santa Cruz’s club team, the spark for Tapia’s emergence in the sport came at the 2010 Big Sur Marathon. There, in the first marathon of his life, Tapia won the race with a time of 2:26:09.
Working out twice a day in between waiting tables at his family’s restaurant and attending Monterey School of Law night classes, Tapia placed seventh at the 2011 San Diego Marathon with a time of 2:16:20, 24th at the U.S. Olympic trials with a 2:15:11 and then won the California International Marathon in 2:16:29. While studying for the bar exam in July, Tapia was informed he’d been chosen as an injury replacement to represent the United States in the marathon at the IAAF World Track & Field Championships in Moscow, largely on the strength of a ninth-place 2:14:30 at the 2013 Boston Marathon.
Under the guidance of his Hartnell coach, Chris Zepeda, and Colorado Springs-based American Distance Project coach Scott Simmons, Tapia compressed an eight-week training schedule into just four weeks. He finished the marathon in 2:18:31, good for 27th overall and second among Team USA runners.
Amy Van Alstine
Van Alstine started running Cross Country and track for Midland Park High School in New Jersey. Her siblings all ran and excelled, so her father encouraged her to follow in their footsteps. During her time at Midland Park, she became the Group 1 State Champion (2004) in Cross Country and Indoor Track (3200) and Outdoor Track (3200). She also received 1st team all-state honors in Cross Country and was named the YMCA student-athlete of the year (2005).
Collegiately, Van Alstine ran for the University of Richmond Spiders in Richmond, VA, where she was an All-American in the 5k outdoors (2011). She was also the school record holder in the outdoor 1500, 3k, and 5k and broke the Atlantic 10 Conference 1500 record. At the end of her college career, she was named Atlantic 10 Athlete of the Year.
Post-collegiately, she joined Adidas-McMillan Elite in Flagstaff, AZ where she has had great success, achieving personal bests in every event from 1500 on the track up to 10k on the roads. She has personal bests from this past year of 4:14.56 (1500) and 15:36.56 (5k) on the track, and 25:50 (8k) and 33:15.72 (10k) on the roads.
“I am honored and very grateful to the Road Runners Club of America for selecting me as one of the recipients for this year’s Road Scholar program. Organizations like RRCA are providing developing athletes, like myself, with the support we need to pursue our running careers further. I truly appreciate all they have done for our sport and believe their financial help and encouragement will aid in getting me to that next level. Thank you RRCA!”
About the RRCA: Founded in 1958, the RRCA is the oldest and largest distance running organization in the United States with over 2,200 running club and event members representing over 250,000 individual runners active in their running communities. The mission of the RRCA is to promote the development and growth of running clubs, running events, and supporting the common interests of recreational runners throughout the country at all stages in life. The RRCA provides a national infrastructure for the development of recreational adult and youth running clubs and events that have boomed into a robust sporting activity. The RRCA actively promotes running as a healthy lifestyle and positive social activity and strives to provide quality programming that can be replicated throughout the country, such as our highly successful Start a Running Club program has been the cornerstone of our organization for over fifty years. Visit them at www.RRCA.org