You would never expect it, but Penn women's cross country junior Maeve Stiles would not describe herself as “someone who knows a lot about running.” Yet this has not stopped her from excelling as a runner, a leader, a teammate, and an involved Penn student.
This season, Stiles has notched some impressive success recently. In September, she placed 15th at the Paul Short Invitational at Lehigh and led the Quakers in all of the races in which they competed with a 19:57 6k time. Additionally, on Oct. 15, she took 14th in the 5k race at the XC23 Invitational at Panorama Farms.
“It's great I’m doing well, but honestly, I’m just very grateful to be in the position right now where I can run,” she said.
Before she began thriving for Penn, Stiles began running with one purpose: “to beat the boys” at her elementary school fun runs. Then, as a multisport athlete through much of high school, running was never priority number one. She envisioned herself playing tennis through college, but things took a turn when her times began to drop during senior year.
“I realized that running was something that I wanted to do at a pretty high level, but it helped me a lot doing other sports and not putting all of my worth in running as my only sport growing up,” Stiles said.
Two main aspects of college running stood out to her at the beginning of her career as a Quaker: changing the way she trains, especially emphasizing strength and cross training for a holistically athletic approach, and running with a devoted and invested team who “see running just as valuable and fun as [she does].”
“Maeve is one of those people who is more of a 'go with the flow' kind of athlete than we usually get here at Penn,” associate head coach Matt Gosselin said. “She likes to control what she can control.”
Though she may not overthink her competitors, Stiles is fierce on the track. In the 5k at the Ivy League championship, the junior set a school record in what was her first time ever running the event.
Even with her focus and drive as a runner, Gosselin describes Stiles as having a “goofy personality in the most loving way.” She serves roles including team jokester and the “glue person” of the Red and Blue, always able to make her teammates smile.
“She is a great runner, but she is so much more than a runner,” Gosselin said.
Stiles encountered some hurdles off the track in the process of getting to where she is now. After competing last indoor season with success, she took a step back to reassess her priorities for the outdoor season.
“I was kind of putting all my worth in being an athlete and I was suffering from some other mental and physical stuff, [so] I decided to take a step back from the outdoor season,” she said.
Last season, Stiles was confronted with challenges that were mentally and physically draining. Even during this time, though, she kept her teammates in high priority. She felt responsible for being someone the team could look up to, which she couldn't do without caring for herself first.
“It's so common for people who do sports to have your identity wrapped up with just being your sport,” Stiles said.
She stepped back, focused on “running for the right reasons,” and made sure she could see herself as a “student and a person” beyond just a runner.
Off the course, Stiles leads an involved life within the Penn community. She is a biochemistry major thinking about taking on a second major, biology, with aspirations of a Ph.D., a career in a lab post-college, and an interest in the field of immunology. After looking up to her mother who works in a lab, Stiles has always been fascinated with protein structure and disease development.
Stiles also serves as president of the Penn Women's Athletic Association. She notes how in the sports world, men’s athletics receive much more attention and funding, so establishing a strong community in women's athletics, especially between different teams, is important to her.
Stiles’ is working in mental health as well, and finding healthy balances and practices extends beyond her and her team. She is involved in Cogwell, a mental health club prioritizing active listening among peers and directing students towards professional resources.
Stiles is also a part of Young Quakers Community Athletics, which partners with Philadelphia schools and provides students with the opportunity to come practice with the Quaker athletes.
Finding an appropriate balance between all facets of her life, and then determining how running fits into the picture, has been a key piece of Stiles’ success thus far this season. Gosselin credits this time off as a factor that led to much of her personal growth and something that helped her establish a sustainable balance — which he feels that she now has.
“I really do think that she's in a good place — she's very healthy and very happy,” Gosselin said.
When getting ready for races, Stiles has a myriad of rituals that she sticks to, including a “signature hairstyle” and a pre-race playlist.
“I visualize what I'm going to be thinking about … and try to remember that there's going to be a lot of pain that I’m going to feel, and not to shy away from it but to embrace it,” Stiles said.
The Ivy League Heptagonal Championships will take place this upcoming Friday. Stiles aims to have her team win Heps to make it to regionals. Personally, she plans to “run [her] hardest to make it to regionals, and place there to be able to compete in nationals.
“The biggest thing that I want to continue to see from her is growth,” Gosselin said. “With her talent and her work ethic, we can continue to have consistent training ... and she's going to be someone who I think will be nationally competitive.”