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MIAC Profiles of Excellence: Marie Borner, Bethel University

floated rightby Rich Mies, CSN Mapping the MIAC Columnist

Receiving a Division I scholarship, particularly to a school in one of the “big six” athletic conferences, is a goal all high school athletes share. But what happens when being at that prestigious Division I school does not work out? If you are Marie Borner, you transfer to Bethel University and go on to win three NCAA individual championships in track and cross country.

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floated leftMarie received a partial scholarship to the University of Wisconsin. In her second year at Madison, she came to realize she was not in the right place. “Running was not working out for me there,” she said. “I had a series of random, nagging injuries that resulted in my being granted a year of medical hardship. School wasn’t working out either and I was getting caught up in the lifestyle of a big school, which wasn’t me. I was brought up in a Christian family. I realized that I wasn’t living life the way I wanted to, and I decided to change that.”

The ironic part was that, during her first year at Wisconsin, Marie’s opinion of Bethel was not a lofty one. “My first year in Madison, I laughed at Bethel,” she recalled. “When I was thinking about leaving Wisconsin, I talked to my brother, who was on the Bethel track team then, and he told me about the program, school, coaches and team. God changed my heart about Bethel. He got me to want to go to Bethel.”

Since arriving at Bethel, Marie has won three NCAA national championships, as well as All-American honors seven times (in seven seasons). She has won 10 MIAC championships, winning all nine individual events she has competed in as well as a relay.

“Marie is a natural leader because of her abilities,” stated Bethel coach Jim Timp. “The younger women naturally look up to her. She is a great role model, works very hard and is very disciplined, but she’s also fun to be around. I think what makes her such a good leader though is she genuinely cares for everyone else on the team. She never holds herself higher than anyone else. She understands that the team is more than just her. Everyone has a job to do. She works hard to fulfill her job on the team and has to trust that her teammates are doing the same thing. In return, her teammates love Marie - she is really just one of the girls. I have seen other teams where they might have a high caliber athlete on the team who is much better than the rest and they end up not associating with the rest of the team. Marie is not like that at all. Her teammates are important to her.”

Marie grew up in Cottage Grove, a suburb of 30,000 in the southeast part of the Twin Cities metro area. She is the middle of three runners. “My brother David ran at Mankato State for a year before transferring to Bethel, where he ran for two years,” she said. “My sister Kaitlin is a freshman at Bethel and runs cross country and track here.”

She and her siblings attended Park High, where Marie participated in Nordic ski as well as running cross country and track. She competed in both the Classic and Skate division of Nordic ski all four years of high school. Marie was named All-Conference Honorable Mention as a junior and made the All-Conference team her senior year. She reached the State Meet in Classic her senior year and placed in the middle of the pack.

In cross country, Marie ran on the Wolfpack varsity for five years, starting in eighth-grade, and earned All-Conference honors each season. She was team MVP her sophomore, junior and senior years. Marie won the Section Meet in each of her final three seasons, and reached the State Meet five times. She finished in the middle of the pack as an eighth-grader but improved to 20th the following year.

She received All-State honors her sophomore, junior and senior years, placing sixth, fifth and 18th. “My senior year, I tore a ligament in my foot at the beginning of the season, and was not fully recovered by the end of the season,” she said. Nevertheless, she was a semifinalist for the Minnesota Runner of the Year as a senior.

Marie competed on the varsity track team for five seasons. She primarily ran the mile and two mile runs, but also ran the 800-meter on occasion. “I ran the 400, sometimes,” she said. “I held the school record in the 400 until Kaitlin broke it.”

She was All-Conference three times, and won the Section Meet in the 1600-meters her sophomore, junior and senior years. Marie earned All-State honors three times, placing fourth at the State Meet in the 1600 and seventh in the 3200-meter her junior year, and seventh in the 1600 as a senior.

Marie was Academic All-State in cross country and track and was the Athena Award winner for Park High her senior year.

Coming out of high school, Marie was recruited by several Division I schools from across the country, as well as numerous Division II and III schools. “I wanted to stay close to home, so I narrowed my choices down to Minnesota and Wisconsin,” she said. “The partial scholarship to Wisconsin was a big factor in my choice.”

A string of small, annoying injuries that limited her competition marred her two years at Wisconsin. She found herself drifting into the party life that can be found on the large campus such as Madison and her grades, while far from bad, were not what she felt she was capable of producing. She was not happy with life at Madison and in her second year at Wisconsin, Marie began to take stock of herself. The introspection helped her realize why she was unhappy: “I realized I wasn’t living my life the way I wanted, or the way God wanted,” she said.

Stepping back and evaluating her options, Marie concluded that Bethel, with its emphasis on Christian living as well as its academic and athletic excellence, was the right place for her. In the fall of 2007, she transferred to Bethel. “One of the biggest life lessons I’ve learned was my time at Madison and how it led me to Bethel,” she stated.

floated rightShe joined the Royals cross country team that fall, and quickly established herself as one of the premier Division III runners in the Upper Midwest. She finished first at the MIAC championships, receiving All-Conference honors, helping Bethel to a third place finish in team standings. She added All-Central Region honors two weeks later by placing third at the Region Meet and advanced to the NCAA Division III Championships. There, she received All-American honors by placing 17th. Marie was later named All-American by the United States Track and Field and Cross Country Coaches Association (USTFCCCA).

The following fall, Marie repeated as MIAC individual champion and added the Central Region individual championship to her resume. She helped the Royals, who finished second at the MIAC Meet, to a fourth place showing at the Region Meet, earning the team’s first berth in the national meet. Marie proceeded to win the NCAA individual championship. She was named All-MIAC, All-Central Region, and All-American.

This fall, Marie was dominant. At the prestigious Roy Griak Invitational, she breezed to the championship in the smaller schools division; her time would have placed fourth among the Division I runners competing. She followed that by winning the MIAC and Central Region championships. She was unable to repeat as NCAA champion, finishing second. She again was honored as All-MIAC, All-Central Region, and All-American selection.

“One of my cherished memories of Marie is last year at the NCAA cross country championships,” Coach Timp reflected. “Marie won the race but she had to really dig down to win and she was hurting. She had second place assured and that could have been good enough if it was her best effort. Don’t get me wrong- second place is great, so is 10th or 100th if it’s the best you can do. I know that Marie would have had regrets though had she not pushed all the way to the end. She did happen to win so it makes an even better story, but I know that I would have been equally as proud of her had she pushed hard but came away with second. It’s all about the effort.”

Her effort in track has been equally successful. In the 2008 indoor season, Marie shattered the MIAC record as she won the mile. She added a first place finish in the 600-meter run in record time as well as helping the Bethel distance medley relay team to a first place finish in record time. Marie was named Performer of the Meet for her efforts. She qualified for the NCAA Championships in the mile and brought home first place, garnering All-American honors. Marie was named USTFCCCA Women’s Indoor Track and Field Central Region Athlete of the Year

In her first year of competing in the MIAC Outdoor Championships, Marie bettered a 20-year old MIAC record in the 1,500-meters in the preliminaries and then captured first place the next day. At the NCAA Division III Meet, she placed a strong third, receiving All-American honors.

Last year, she was the MIAC Indoor champion in the mile and 600, and received All-American distinction by placing second at the NCAA Indoor Championships. In the outdoor season, she broke her own record in taking first place at the MIAC Meet in the mile, garnering her Outstanding Performer of the Meet honors. She qualified for the NCAA Meet and proceeded to capture first place in the mile. Marie was named Central Region track and field athlete of the year.

Marie holds school records in five indoor events: the 400-meter, 600-meter, 800-meter and the mile, and is part of record-setting distance medley relay team. She also holds the school records in the 800-meter and 1500-meter in the outdoor season, as well as being part of the record-setting 4 x 800-meter relay team. Marie has a season of eligibility left in the indoor and outdoor track seasons, and will run this coming year.

In 2009, the coaches’ association named her a national All-Academic scholar.

Marie is an Exercise Science major, sporting a 3.30 GPA and will graduate in May. Graduate school is an option for her, but it is more likely to come after a few years in the work force. She is looking at job options in sports performance, preferably at a sports facility.

For Marie, her decision to transfer to Bethel was a life lesson. “I chose to go to UW solely because it was a chance to run at the D-I level,” she said. “Bethel has helped me find my identity with Jesus Christ. Yeah, running is important, but it does not identify me. My relationship with Jesus is what identifies me.”

Coach Timp is appreciative of Marie as a runner, but also for her humility and her integrity. “Last year we had a number of recruits visiting campus and many of our women stopped by to meet these recruits,” he said. “When I introduced Marie, one of the recruits chimed “YOU’RE MARIE BORNER” in total intimidation.

“Marie assured her that she really wasn’t anything special. She simply has a gift like everyone else - we all have different gifts. It has been my privilege to coach someone like Marie who is not just a strong runner but also a person of great character. I believe it has made me a better coach. She is an outstanding young woman!”

[The photos are used courtesy of the Bethel University Sports Information Office.]

The Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (MIAC) is widely respected as one of the premier conferences in nearly every sport competed in Division III. Year after year, the MIAC produces teams and individual student-athletes who excel in their given sport. At the same time, the MIAC schools maintain a reputation of commitment to academic excellence. This article is one in a series of spotlights on some of the young men and women who represent the league’s commitment to excellence, both in the classroom and athletics during the 2008-09 academic year.

This feature will be included in the “Profiles of Excellence 2009-2010″ book which will be available for order at RDM Publishing. It will feature profiles of student-athletes from the Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference, written by CSN’s “Mapping the MIAC” columnist Rich Mies.