Laura Baeyens has been through the ringer.
The senior with Penn women's cross country and track and field has missed parts of three seasons due to injury. She couldn't compete in the indoor or outdoor track seasons for each of the last two years as a result. But despite all that, she's still laying it all on the line for her final campaign in Red and Blue.
After experiencing success running in high school, she began to consider running in college more seriously and soon found a home at Penn. When she was looking at colleges, Baeyens recalled her mom’s advice to “find a place where you'd be happy to be injured at, or at least, where you could be injured at.”
Unfortunately for her, she's had to find that silver lining as a Quaker, where despite having to miss parts of all three seasons so far, she has always felt like she was a part of the team and had the support of her teammates.
After feeling pain in her ankle in her freshman winter, Baeyens found out she had a tear in one of the tendons in the side of her ankle. A MRI later revealed stress reactions in different bones in her foot, requiring surgery. Then in her junior year, she found out that the first surgery was not fully successful, and got a tendon transfer.
“There’s a kind of injured mindset when you're just stuck in the spot of being injured and you think, 'Okay, well, this is what I am right now,' ” Baeyens said. “But I think that's just your physical manifestation of pain, and there's so many more aspects of yourself that are kind of pretty easy to forget. Teammates help you remember to not only focus on injury.”
Associate head coach Matt Gosselin believes Baeyens has remained resilient, committed, and thoughtful throughout the challenges her injuries have presented her.
“She's been very determined to come back stronger and always be a very meaningful contributor to the team in whatever way she possibly can,” he said. “She trains really hard, and she’s also somebody that wants to see each person succeed, not at the detriment of any one other person, but to see everybody all around her sort of be uplifted.”
In addition to teammates and coaches, Baeyens' main inspiration stems from her family, especially her parents who taught her to work hard and made sure she knew there’s no limits on what she could accomplish.
Baeyens grew up in a family of runners who inspired her to start running in third grade. By the time she got to sophomore year in high school, she'd excelled enough that running at the NCAA Division I level was a legitimate possibility.
“When we were younger, it was easier for my parents to just send us out of the house and tell us to go on a run whenever we were being annoying,” she said. “We'd do fun 5Ks and fun runs together all the time.
"I’m also the third child of five, and we are very competitive,” she added. “My younger sister is running for Rutgers. Before my first ever race in third or fourth grade, I watched her win her race in the younger division, and I ended up getting second. It's something that we still joke about to this day. But then two weekends ago, I beat her by a second. So we're fine.”
Baeyens has also put effort into her academics, and is currently on track to be one of the first student-athletes to graduate from the Vagelos Program in the Molecular Life Sciences. Additionally, she participates in several extracurricular activities, like volunteering with Young Quakers, which establishes athletic teams with students from local West Philadelphia schools and engages them with Penn’s varsity teams.
She’s also stepped into a leadership role this season, according to senior teammate Liv Morganti, and a lot of underclassmen look to her for advice on classes, school, and dealing with injury.
“Somehow, despite everything she does, she’s not always super stressed out and takes everything in stride,” Morganti said. “She’s very busy, but she makes time to have a very full life.”
This weekend, the women’s cross country team will take 12 people to participate in the Ivy League Championships. Even with it being her final chance to compete at Ivy Heps, Baeyens is still a team player when asked about the topic.
“We have a lot of people who are all running very similar times," she said. "Everyone wants to do well, but they also want the team to do well, so there’s no animosity to it.”