Just go for it.
For Danielle Orie, a senior runner for Penn women’s track and field and cross country, this has become the motto she follows in all aspects of her life.
Orie’s path to competing at Penn was atypical. The Buffalo, N.Y. native grew up as a multi-sport athlete, sampling nearly every sport that she could. Even when it came time to specialize in sports early in high school, running hadn’t crossed Orie’s mind yet.
“I was mainly a basketball player and a swimmer, and I did almost every other sport,” Orie said. “My mom was a swimmer and my dad was a basketball player, so that’s kind of where I got those interests.”
While her main interests were in basketball and swimming, Orie also started running during the spring track seasons. As she continued to run competitively, Orie knew that running could take her the farthest as an athlete.
“After my sophomore year, I was like ‘wait, I’m actually pretty good at running,’” Orie said. “I was a talented swimmer, but I was a more talented runner. I could also use swimming as that cross-training [for running].”
Once Orie committed to running, she found herself at Penn, succeeding in a sport that she had only started competing in a few years prior. In her freshman season, Orie was named second team All-Ivy for cross country. A year later, she earned second team All-Ivy honors in both the 5,000m and 10,000m outdoor events.
Her early successes were interrupted later that spring, when Orie found herself dealing with the first of a string of stress fracture injuries that threatened her career and running ability.
“I was having a really rough string of injuries,” Orie said. “It was a little bit nutritionally related. Also, I just have this tendency to kind of push through pain that shouldn’t be pushed through. I want to go from 0 to 100 right away without all of the steps in between.”
Orie’s injuries kept her sidelined for nearly all of the 2019 athletic calendar. As she started to prepare for a return to the competition in 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic halted collegiate sports. Like it did for athletes everywhere, the pandemic changed Orie’s plans.
“I think having that cancelation of all the sports kind of made me take a step back,” Orie said. “I talked to my coach and we started a slow, gradual build-up and because there was no season on the line, I could take as much time as needed.”
The cancelation of sports offered Orie a kind of silver lining: a chance to be as patient as necessary with her recovery, allowing her to return to her old form.
Orie’s grit and determination in her recovery were noticeable to those around her, including her twin sister, Gabrielle, who is a member of the cross country team at Cornell.
“Even when her body was giving up on her, her mind wasn’t giving up. She continued to persevere,” Gabrielle Orie said.
Danielle Orie’s determination to be at her best is not limited to her athletic career. It has also helped her to find a career that she is passionate about.
“My family is very strongly entrenched in the medical field, and so I came to Penn with the intention of becoming a nurse,” Orie said. “I ended up transferring out of the school of nursing after my third semester at Penn and decided to major in anthropology.”
Orie’s ability to pivot is something that she has always been adept at. If she is not passionate about something, she has always been able to find a way to improve her circumstances.
“She’s always being thrown in different directions, and I’d like to say she’s a little bit impulsive, but I’d say she’s also brave in that sense,” Gabrielle Orie said. “Whenever something is not making her happy, she figures out a way to make herself happy. Sometimes it’s a little bit impulsive, but that’s just her style.”
Orie’s ability to pivot when she needs a change in direction and her ability to persevere in tough circumstances have put her on a new path following her graduation from Penn this spring. The senior intends to combine her studies in anthropology with her passion for food by attending law school at the University of Wisconsin, an agricultural hub. Her transition to Wisconsin will also include the next step in her athletic career.
“I actually have two more years of eligibility between COVID-19 and the injury,” Orie said. “So, I committed to taking a fifth and sixth year while I’m in law school at Wisconsin.”
Orie’s next steps have those around her excited, as her return to competition has been a long time coming. Those around her know how hard she has worked to return to form, and they know how ready Danielle will be to compete at the next stop in her athletic journey.
“I’m just so excited to see her race again in her uniform,” her sister said. “It’ll be the start all over again, but it will also be crossing a big finish line with her beating injury and beating everything that told her to stop.”
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