Part 2: 24 Testimonials from Women’s Cross Country Alumnae

Yuki’s letter and the petition can be read here. The timeline of contact between the team and the Athletic Department can be found here.

 

In Part 2 of this series, we are presenting 24 testimonials from 24 women who participated on the women’s cross country and track and field teams during their time at Wesleyan. Each story was written and prepared by each alumna herself, and reveals a pattern of mistreatment that led to a cycle of disordered eating, malnutrition, fatigue, and injuries as a result.

While many of the alumnae touch on their personal experiences with Coach Crooke, his actions are only part of the focus here. The first goal of these testimonials is to shed light on the specific actions of Coach Crooke and the devastating effect that they had on the team culture. The second is to call upon the Athletic Department as an institution to step up and protect its athletes, the very people on whose efforts the Department thrives. The testimonials and timeline beg the following questions: Where was the Athletic Department each time a runner spoke up about the conditions of the team? How could runners expect the Athletic Department to act when it did not even really listen in the first place?

A few have asked to keep their name and/or class year anonymous, but that does not lessen the degree of legitimacy of their stories. There are many reasons why they may have chosen to remain anonymous, including, but not limited to, concerns about how the Department or Coach will respond to these stories coming to light. If anything, their decision not to identify themselves speaks even further to a culture of fear and intimidation within the team.

Read the testimonials after the jump:

 

Tess Crain, Class of 2012, Email to Wesleyan Athletics

 

There were several instances in my time at Wesleyan that Coach Crooke’s insensitivity to or lack of understanding about weight truly damaged a girl on the team. Several of my teammates struggled with disordered eating even in high school, and Coach Crooke was aware of this, yet he ignored, blundered through or simply didn’t consider this when talking to these girls about losing weight.

John Crooke has both inspired and alienated a lot of runners. No two student-athletes are the same and one man can and should not be expected to handle the entirety of a diverse set of personalities with perfect finesse. However, the ratio of positive to negative experiences seems, on the whole, poorly skewed. Few teams have a perfect retention rate, but the fact is that in 2008 my freshman class featured six recruited runners between the women’s and men’s teams—seven, including a junior transfer—and in 2012 graduated with none. This cannot be called a success.

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Testimonial provided by Tess Crain (‘12), in the form of her e-mail to Wesleyan athletic administrators when she was asked by cross country coach John Crooke to write on his behalf during his review for reappointment and promotion in 2013. 

Re: John Crooke Reappointment and Promotion
Date: Fri, Jan 25, 2013 at 10:16 PM

 

Dear Mike Whalen,

Thank you for being in touch. I appreciate and value the opportunity to write this letter. Your request puts me in a position of great responsibility, not only to Coach Crooke but to future runners and scholar-athletes at Wesleyan University, and I have tried to evaluate John Crooke’s eligibility for reappointment and promotion to Adjunct Professor of Physical Education at Wesleyan University with this in mind.

I know several other student-athletes were asked to address Coach Crooke’s candidacy, but to be as valid and informed as possible, I reached out to several more former teammates, all of whom responded with thoughtfulness, insight and force. Although this letter is entirely my own aside from what is directly quoted, and I have discussed nothing outside of my personal experience, either as participant or witness, I acted as I believe a teammate should and have taken their opinions and feelings into consideration.

Personally, I look back on my experience with Wesleyan Cross Country as positive. Coach Crooke helped and inspired me to compete at a new, more meaningful level. Running at a small high school in a small state, I had little understanding of my own potential, either physically or psychologically, until I trained with Coach Crooke. His workouts were grueling but always manageable, building up both my body and my confidence. The training runs were longer and vastly faster, too, but they made races less intimidating. In the winter of my freshman year Coach Crooke predicted I would break my personal record from high school by a minute. Three months later, I broke it by a minute and twenty seconds. Coach Crooke then upped my mileage and told me I had the ability to be part of a more competitive, more focused, recruit-studded women’s team, with a chance of competing in the NCAA National Championships. Six months after that, I was sitting on a plane to Ohio with Coach and my six teammates, on our way to Nationals. That experience still ranks as one of my most overwhelming and victorious of college. Having an inspirational captain, Ravenna Neville, and committed and talented teammates greatly contributed to this success, but, ultimately, I credit Coach Crooke for the majority of this achievement.

I had, however, an easier time working with Coach Crooke than many. This may be because I made my priorities, particularly academics, very clear from the start. I had, too, the confidence and self-efficacy to battle where I felt necessary. Collegiate athletics were my first experience of true success in and commitment to the sport: my identity was already predicated upon a host of factors unrelated to running, which equipped me with an existential strength and protection that I think many of my teammates didn’t have, and is likely why I was able to internalize the good aspects of John Crooke’s coaching and largely ignore the bad.

John Crooke has a passion for and understanding of distance running that few can match. He has dedicated his life to the sport, and the ferocity of his motivation and focus can inspire even the most timid or apathetic athlete. One of my former teammates put it this way: “I think Crooke had a dedication to coaching that I don’t expect every DIII cross country coach to have. In terms of coaching ability, I think Crooke was a good coach with a fantastic grasp of the sport. I preferred that he held us to a higher standard, even if he didn’t handle it all that well when we didn’t perform. Also I’d much rather be coached by him than by someone [with less focus or seriousness].” I consider this to be largely if not entirely true.

Coach Crooke’s intensity is not only his greatest strength but also, perhaps, his deepest weakness. In your letter, you defined the crux of Wesleyan athletics thus: “At Wesleyan, the primary focus is on teaching of skills, coaching competency and leadership, mentoring, the recruiting of scholar-athletes and sensitivity to the student’s needs and interests. The coach should positively influence the student’s personal growth and their overall educational experience.” Coach Crooke’s love of running helped me and my teammates push ourselves and succeed in the sport. But it also fostered, I believe, a myopic intolerance that does not take into consideration the array of a “student’s needs and interests.” Even the most running-centric of my teammates had other focuses. Academics, of course, as well as friendships, relationships, creative passions and other vital aspects of psychological and personal development. Part of the power of a Wesleyan education is the ability to succeed and grow in numerous ways. Coach Crooke was often dismissive of or blind to this. He spoke frequently and disparagingly of my and other students’ academic priorities, which to me does not suggest an appreciation for the scholar half of the scholar-athlete or the “overall educational experience.” One of my teammates made the fair point that she was “glad that he didn’t see academics as an excuse for poor athletic performance,” but that seems a lackluster silver lining for such a gross refusal to value the pursuit of knowledge.

Another factor that Coach Crooke would have to address if reappointed and promoted is that of scapegoating and doling out blame. Three separate students used the word “scapegoat” when referring to Coach Crooke’s actions. When the team did not perform as he or we had hoped, Coach Crooke seemed to struggle with taking responsibility himself. He had very high standards, which in some cases buoyed us. But he promoted a counterproductive zero-tolerance policy for anything that to him constituted failure. As one of my teammates articulated it: “I feel like he rarely spoke to us collectively in a motivational manner. When he did speak to us as a group it was to convey his disappointment or go over formalities. A good job, which we all know is a rarity coming from him, can go a long way. Cheesy, I know, but there’s only so much captains and teammates can say or do to encourage when the coach shows no emotion or ignores one person’s triumph because someone else had a bad day.”

My junior year, when the women’s team placed poorly at the Regional Championship, Coach Crooke publicly blamed the two captains for faulty leadership and demoted them by retitling them “team leaders.” In the Spring, he embarrassed one in front of a banquet of coaches and peers by refusing to give her the generally obligatory award that a senior on each of the men’s and women’s team is designated to receive. She was the only remaining senior on the women’s team. The following year, after some runners were involved in an incident at Bates, Coach Crooke asked several students to leave the team. This is of course understandable. But he also cut a student who not only had nothing to do with the event but was a hugely dedicated member and the only senior girl still running. (I finished after the Fall season senior year to focus on my honors thesis.) Another runner took time off to reorganize her life and sort out several last-minute academic shifts. When she later asked to rejoin the team, having trained the four months preceding, Coach Crooke refused to allow her to return because the team was in an unstable place—unrelated to her or her time competing—and he didn’t want to add any complicating factors. But she was not and we are not factors, we are students, and the team should not be treated, like a corporation, as if it is an individual. A former teammate articulated the dynamic perfectly: “Ideally, a coach should support athletes and the team. My impression of Coach’s philosophy was to support the team even at the expense of individual athletes.” I cannot disagree.

I think Coach Crooke has had particular difficulty working with female athletes. I dislike defining issues by gender and am loathe to further any perception of women as inherently more sensitive. But in running, your body is your vehicle. Every muscle, nodule, ratio and limb plays a role in your competitiveness on the course and on the track. Mental toughness is huge, too, but the reality is that [the bodies of athletes on the men’s and women’s teams] are biologically different and thus differently affected by running. This means that there are realities like weight, menstruation, and iron levels—all of which interact—that a coach has to be comfortable discussing and, perhaps more importantly, extremely sensitive to, if he is going to work well and positively with female runners. Delegation of certain issues to an assistant coach can work, but there must be a great deal of communication and attention for this technique to be effective. So far, Coach Crooke has not successfully implemented this.

Weight, in particular, is an issue I feel compelled to address. Despite the delicate sociocultural dynamics of the female body, both in and outside of athletics, the fact that weight affects running can and should not be ignored. But the subject needs to be handled appropriately. There were several instances in my time at Wesleyan that Coach Crooke’s insensitivity to or lack of understanding about weight truly damaged a girl on the team. Several of my teammates struggled with disordered eating even in high school, and Coach Crooke was aware of this, yet he ignored, blundered through or simply didn’t consider this when talking to these girls about losing weight. At least one of my teammates quit because of this.

John Crooke has both inspired and alienated a lot of runners. No two student-athletes are the same and one man can and should not be expected to handle the entirety of a diverse set of personalities with perfect finesse. However, the ratio of positive to negative experiences seems, on the whole, poorly skewed. Few teams have a perfect retention rate, but the fact is that in 2008 my freshman class featured six recruited runners between the women’s and men’s teams—seven, including a junior transfer—and in 2012 graduated with none. This cannot be called a success.

One final thought is that it could be useful if some channel for communication and mediation between scholar-athletes and their coaches existed at Wesleyan, where current students felt as though they had some power—and safety—to discuss policy and coaching decisions with someone who had authority over said coach. It could alleviate a lot of stress to not feel subject, essentially, to a coach’s every whim or poorly thought-out decision. I’m not sure how this would work or what it would look like, but, in hindsight, it might have helped dissolve some of the tension between Coach Crooke and many of my teammates in the past. After all, while scholar-athletes are ultimately only human, so are coaches.

Collegiate athletics have a pervasive effect on the lives of students who participate in them. What and when you eat, how much you sleep, even what classes you have the time and logistic ability in which to enroll. To be a coach, then, is to take not only a student’s athletic experience into your hands but his or her daily life. As your letter states, “The coach should positively influence the student’s personal growth and their overall educational experience.” The oft-quoted “with great power comes great responsibility” pertains acutely here.

If reappointed and promoted, John Crooke will likely benefit and train a number of students to success, and his desire and ability to do so should not be ignored. However, I do worry that unless he learns to understand, communicate with and treat better those in his charge, there will be future Wesleyan students who have profound and echoing negative experiences. I think that Wesleyan would want to and should strive for better. This could mean several things, including John Crooke developing and rearranging his style of coaching and teaching. It could also mean that he is not the right fit for the job. Speaking from my personal experience with Coach, and knowing how much the team and Wesleyan means to him, I truly hope for the former.

I apologize for how long this is, but hopefully you will find it helpful. I think this is a complex and serious question, and I know both Coach Crooke and future students will feel the implications of whatever decision is made.

Let me know if you have any questions.

Good luck with the review process.

Go Wes!

Best, Tess

 

Rachel Unger, Class of 2015 

 

I have also tried to speak with Coach Crooke about issues around weight and eating. The summer before my senior year, we had been required to fill out food diaries with a list of everything we ate each day and the total calories, for a few weeks. At my pre-season meeting with Coach Crooke, we talked about this, and I suggested that he let the female assistant coaches handle conversations about weight with the female athletes. I remember vividly that he dismissed this suggestion, saying that the athletes wouldn’t “take the assistant coaches seriously”. This seemed strange to me, as we greatly respected our assistant coaches and trusted their advice. Respect does not equal intimidation. It is heartbreaking to hear Christina’s story, which happened less than two years later, and could have easily been prevented with a different attitude toward young women’s nutrition.

The Athletic Department’s failure to act on this issue already is extremely disappointing and angering…. Many Wesleyan athletes have had the courage to speak up and voice their feelings to the Athletic Department. Yet, each time, we are made to feel like we are crazy and no one has ever complained before. How long will it take for the Athletic Department to recognize that these problems are real, and that they follow a pattern?

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Throughout my four years on Wesleyan’s Cross Country and Track & Field teams, I had many positive experiences, but they have been largely overshadowed by nearly constant frustration, anger, and sadness. I have had many concerns about communication between coaches and athletes, mental and physical health issues, and a lack of recognition of individual differences and needs when developing training plans or giving medical advice. 

In general, I feel that many of the problems that my teammates have brought up stem from an overall lack of communication and individualized training in the program. The way our communication with Coach Crooke worked was that we would have a private meeting in his office at the beginning and end of each season, which was something that caused stress and anticipation. For the rest of the season, he would barely talk to most athletes about their training, with most of his attention focused on a handful of the fastest athletes. I don’t think he talked to me at all for the first month of my freshman year. Decisions about our training seemed to be warped by the talent and potential he saw in each of us, rather than the physical needs of our bodies. For example, one of my friends was very talented and came in as the fastest freshman, but was perpetually injured during our freshman year. At the end of the year, Coach Crooke bumped her mileage up from 40 to 48 miles per week (she was still injured, and therefore had to do 48 miles per week on an elliptical all summer), and she was also told to lose weight. At the same time, although I had not been injured all year, I was told that my mileage would remain at 40. I was also not told to lose weight, even though I had certainly gained the “freshman 10” myself. These decisions felt arbitrary in a way that created a sense of fear and anxiety. Faster athletes received more attention and also more pressure, while slower athletes were more often ignored. Running is a very psychological sport, and when your coach doesn’t seem to believe in you, it is virtually impossible to believe in yourself. This has a direct impact on your athletic performance.

When we were injured, we were further isolated. Personally, I was lucky to not face many health problems or injuries during my time at Wesleyan. This was not true for the majority of people on the team. The training program we did was similar to the men’s team’s program, scaled down to have less mileage. However, it was still high mileage, with most women starting at 40 miles a week and increasing up to 48-60 miles per week by the end of sophomore year. For many women, the training resulted in perpetual injury. When someone was injured, it took a huge toll on them both physically and mentally. As long as we were cleared to cross train, we would do all of our weekly mileage and workouts alone on the elliptical, with little to no adjustment to our training plan, even when injuries were clearly chronic. Many runners were told that they had become injured because they were too heavy. The Athletic Injury Care staff helped us day to day with injuries, but didn’t seem to recognize long-term health problems among individuals or patterns across the team. Rather than being supported through emotionally and physically painful injuries, we were shamed, blamed, and isolated.

By the time I was a senior, I had a good relationship with Coach Crooke, and was on the leadership team. I also became more confident and comfortable speaking my mind. At that point, I was the lone junior or senior woman on the team, and felt an obligation to support and speak up for the underclassmen on the team. In the spring of my senior year, three athletes in the sophomore class came to me with concerns about Coach Crooke and our team dynamic. They felt that Coach Crooke only talked to the two fastest runners on the team about strategy and goals before races (there were only 10 women on the team at the time, so it would not be difficult to talk to everyone). I agreed; there was a constant feeling of fear about being on his “good side” or “bad side,” and this seemed largely tied to our race times and rank on the team, with few exceptions. I met with Coach Crooke and brought up these concerns. He was somewhat receptive. However, he also said he thought these complaints were coming from just one sophomore who had “riled up” the freshmen, but he was mistaken about who had brought up the concerns, showing a lack of understanding of how widespread these feelings were.

I have also tried to speak with Coach Crooke about issues around weight and eating. The summer before my senior year, we had been required to fill out food diaries with a list of everything we ate each day and the total calories, for a few weeks. At my pre-season meeting with Coach Crooke, we talked about this, and I suggested that he let the female assistant coaches handle conversations about weight with the female athletes. I remember vividly that he dismissed this suggestion, saying that the athletes wouldn’t “take the assistant coaches seriously”. This seemed strange to me, as we greatly respected our assistant coaches and trusted their advice. Respect does not equal intimidation. It is heartbreaking to hear Christina’s story, which happened less than two years later, and could have easily been prevented with a different attitude toward young women’s nutrition.

In retrospect, having a woman doing the talking is not a sufficient solution. Rather, athletes (and coaches) need to be provided with comprehensive resources on healthy eating and RED-S syndrome (female athlete triad). Medical advice needs to be given by medical professionals who are well-versed in the risks of endurance sports. For example, my teammates and I were led to believe that as long as we were menstruating regularly we were fine; some were even advised to take oral contraceptive pills to regulate their periods. This is not good advice! In fact, the oral contraceptive pill can create an “artificial” period that simply masks, rather than solves, the bone density problems and other risks of RED-S syndrome.

These issues persisted throughout the four years I was on the team. When I joined Wesleyan Cross Country as a freshman in 2011, the program was large, with 22 women and 19 men on the teams. Over the next two years, the team rapidly shrunk as a wave of athletes quit. There was an incident in the fall of 2011 that resulted in 3 men and 1 woman being dismissed from the team; everyone else quit by choice. In my grade, 5 out of 6 women quit by our junior year (at least 3 of them were struggling with a medical condition such as a chronic injury or an eating disorder), and 7 out of 8 men quit by the end of sophomore year. In the grade above me, 5 out of 7 women quit, and 4 out of 4 women in the grade below me did so as well. This is not normal. When people quit the team, Coach Crooke, and some athletes on the men’s and women’s teams, had the attitude that they just “didn’t love running enough” or “didn’t have what it takes,” and that we were better off without them. This meant that the coaching staff and the Athletic Department took absolutely no responsibility to understand what these young women and men had gone through, and why they had made the very difficult decision to quit. These are some of the most hard-working, committed people I know, who loved running, who did not give up easily, and who are ambitious and enjoy pushing themselves in their academics, athletics, and careers. Yet, for many of them, and for myself, too, their relationship with their sport was damaged beyond repair.

As we have seen with stories like Mary Cain’s, these problems in women’s running are institutional and widespread. This is not the fault of one man, and it is the Athletic Department’s responsibility to proactively enact measures to make sure that the health and wellness of female athletes is prioritized. Due to the high rates of eating disorders among runners in general, the Athletic Department needs to recognize that many athletes will enter the team already having a history of disordered eating, and needs to have resources ready to go to help and support these runners, rather than shame them and exacerbate the problem. Women’s running is still a relatively new field, and not enough research has been done on women’s health in endurance sports. It is easy to simply take what works for men and place it on women, but this isn’t working. I would also like to mention that while women have medical issues specific to their bodies, these general problems are not limited to the womens’ team; men have been quitting the team at high rates too, and also can and do struggle with body image issues and disordered eating. I cannot speak for the men’s team, but I would love to hear their voices, too.

One of Mary Cain’s main calls for change was to put more women in power over athletic programs and in coaching positions. Based on my experience at Wesleyan, I absolutely agree. During my junior and senior years, I was so grateful for the support of my two female assistant coaches, Laura Pierce and Lindsay Holmes. Coach Holmes was a practicing physical therapist. She would run with us nearly every day at practice, and I felt comfortable asking her for advice and having back-and-forth conversations about running. This was something I never had during my first two years on the team. Many of us would go to her first with questions about injuries, proper stretching, or pains we were feeling. We trusted her because her advice was backed by knowledge of the most up-to-date research on physiology and sports medicine (in fact, she was doing research and writing articles herself). Furthermore, she was honest, impartial, and a good listener. She cared about us as individuals, and gave advice that reflected an understanding of our individual needs. Having her around was enormously beneficial to building my confidence as a runner, and it wasn’t until my senior year that I really started to see the huge amount of time and effort I was putting into training pay off with results. Unfortunately, the assistant coaches were never given much responsibility or agency in helping to design training plans or give advice about racing strategy. This was a huge waste of talent, and in my opinion, disrespectful to them. Neither Coach Pierce nor Coach Holmes works for Wesleyan anymore, and there are currently no women on the coaching staff. I strongly urge the Athletic Department to change this. Furthermore, it is not enough to just hire a woman; all coaches need to be trained on nutrition, eating disorders, mental health, and injury prevention in female athletes.

The Athletic Department’s failure to act on this issue already is extremely disappointing and angering. These issues are very difficult to speak about, and it has taken years for my former teammates and I to process what happened to us while we were at Wesleyan. In spite of how difficult it is, many Wesleyan athletes have had the courage to speak up and voice their feelings to the Athletic Department. Yet, each time, we are made to feel like we are crazy and no one has ever complained before. How long will it take for the Athletic Department to recognize that these problems are real, and that they follow a pattern? When a student-athlete or former student-athlete brings up these concerns, they are expending an immense amount of energy and courage. To do so while currently on the team creates an additional fear of retribution and social isolation. When you are committed to a three-season sport (with a full summer of training, too), it is your life and your identity, and your coach’s opinion of you becomes consuming. Personally, it is against my nature to say anything negative about someone else. I have also had good experiences with Coach Crooke, and appreciate the commitment he has given to Wesleyan Cross Country. I do not want to damage my relationships or cause anyone hurt, and it is easier to simply swallow these feelings or blame myself and move on, as many have done. However, the Athletic Department has failed to listen to us when we talked to them nicely, and that is why this petition is necessary. The demands we are presenting are feasible, not punitive, and to me, common sense.

I am sure that these problems are not limited to Wesleyan. Wesleyan has an opportunity to be a role model to the rest of the country by developing a plan to address the health issues of female athletes proactively and to ensure a supportive coaching environment for generations of athletes to come. Solving these problems will not be easy, but making the decision to truly listen to our stories, heed our demands, and commit to moving in the right direction is. Thank you.

 

Brianna Parsons, Class of 2014

 

John Crooke informed me that I was “overweight for a runner.” He told me to keep a food journal, recording daily the amount and types of foods I consumed. At this time, he also asked me to refrain from talking to others on the team about our meeting, telling me that these types of conversations could stress and worry others on the team, which would ultimately negatively impact their personal and team performances….My interactions with John Crooke were strikingly different when my performance was poor—we rarely communicated either pre- or post- race, which was something regularly done for the team’s top performers and something I appreciated when I was running up to his standards during my freshman year.

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After two years of competing with Wesleyan Cross Country, I quit the team due to negative experiences working with John Crooke. Like many college athletes, I found a great sense of community from the cross country team upon arriving at college. I was extremely passionate and dedicated to this new team, consistently sharing meals, socializing, studying, and eventually living with members of the team. The team became a source of comfort in navigating the challenges many freshmen face when beginning our new lives at college. 

My first cross country season was largely a success, however, my performance times remained largely stagnant from high-school, and declined as I entered indoor track season my freshman year. It was at this time that John Crooke spoke to me about my weight. At this meeting in his office, John Crooke informed me that I was “overweight for a runner.” He told me to keep a food journal, recording daily the amount and types of foods I consumed. At this time, he also asked me to refrain from talking to others on the team about our meeting, telling me that these types of conversations could stress and worry others on the team, which would ultimately negatively impact their personal and team performances.

The “weight talk” was not a new concept to me. Fearful rumors of the “weight talk” from John Crooke circulated the locker room, and in this moment when the talk was centered on me, I knew exactly what John Crooke meant when he warned me of the stress this could cause the team. He told me I could talk to the assistant coach at the time, a young alumni female runner, who John Crooke informed me similarly received a “weight talk” her freshman year, lost the weight and went on to become one of the team’s best runners. I left his office numb, feeling shame and sadness and being unsure of what to do to quickly lose weight. I never talked to the assistant coach, whom I had had a very limited relationship with up to that point, but her story was ingrained in my head––lose the weight and you’ll be fast again. 

That winter, I routinely began skipping meals but was careful to not let teammates notice my behaviors. I privately obsessed over nutrition information, using online calculators to estimate the calories I consumed each day until I was knowledgeable enough to do rough calculations in my head throughout the day, carefully allotting myself limited calories according to the number of miles I ran that day. Lunch was regularly replaced with tea and a small snack under 200 calories. I have a specific memory of showing John Crooke my food journal, to which he remarked, “a Powerbar isn’t enough for lunch.” In that moment, I felt further shame, knowing both that my efforts to lose weight to that point were unsuccessful and that I was not about to have larger lunches anytime soon. There was no follow-up from John Crooke to see if my eating behaviors had improved after that time. 

I continued my disordered eating patterns from the winter of my freshman year on. My performance on the cross-country team continued to decline and I struggled to lose any further weight. My interactions with John Crooke were strikingly different when my performance was poor — we rarely communicated either pre- or post- race, which was something regularly done for the team’s top performers and something I appreciated when I was running up to his standards during my freshman year. I started doing two-a-day workouts my sophomore year, a “promotion” of sorts which I believed at the time meant John Crooke saw potential in me. The 60-mile weeks combined with my disordered eating led to no major improvement in my running performance, and in the spring of my sophomore year, I got a stress fracture in my femur. (At this point, I must reiterate that the femur is the strongest bone in the human body and that this injury was quite common on the Wesleyan Cross Country team.) My season-ending injury felt devastating, as so much of my life and identity at the time was wrapped up in the team. John Crooke was notoriously poor at communicating with injured athletes during this undeniably stressful time and my experience with him was no different. 

A few of my teammates quit the team during the spring of my sophomore year for various reasons, most of which revolved around John Crooke’s mismanagement of athletes during injuries and team controversies. I became particularly infuriated over his treatment of a teammate of mine, one-year younger who similarly was told she needed to lose weight, got injured, and received little acknowledgement from John Crooke during this period. At the time, I could feel anger over the abuse of my teammate but was unable to recognize the similarities between her story and my own. I was unable to feel anything more than shame for the weight my body held, weight that at the time I believed prohibited me from excelling at a sport I so deeply cared about. I recovered from my injury and ran all summer leading up to cross country season my junior year before deciding to quit the team one-week before classes started, after an agonizing summer of reflection. 

It took me over two years to talk to my closest friends about my meeting with John Crooke regarding my weight and weight loss. It is because of these friends and their compassionate support that I was able to move on from this emotionally charged period of my life. During periods of high stress or anxiety in my adult life I still engage in disordered eating patterns, though over the eight years since I quit the team I’ve worked hard to rebuild. I now have a much healthier relationship with food and my body. 

My story is unfortunately not uncommon among the women’s cross country team. Numerous teammates of mine have similar stories to mine. John Crooke frequently discussed weight with young female athletes in severely unhealthy ways, leading to numerous eating disorders and injuries. I write this testimonial today urging Wesleyan University to protect its athletes and take action against John Crooke’s established, harmful behaviors. 

 

Anonymous, Class of 2014

 

I received the “fat talk” (as it was called by everyone on the team) several times. Coach Crooke repeatedly told me that I needed to be closer to 100 lbs. At 125 lbs, I was at a healthy B.M.I,  but my coach impressed upon me that my injuries were my fault because I was not at an “optimal running weight”.

The culture of the cross country team at Wesleyan and its neglect by the athletic department misled me to believe that the reason I accumulated bone injuries was because I was “overweight”. I blamed myself for not losing enough weight, and for not losing it fast enough. I obsessed over being lighter so I could be faster.

.I was not supported through these injuries by the coaching or athletic training staff. When I needed to see the athletic trainers or athletic department’s doctor, I felt like a nuisance or distraction as compared to the other ball-sport teams, rather than a responsibility. My teammates and I were told by the athletic training staff that their priority was to provide care to the other teams since those athletes needed to “get outside for practice”, even though that was not a valid discriminating factor between our sports. 

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I competed for Wesleyan Cross Country and Track & Field from 2010 through 2014. During this time, I came to realize that there is something flawed with the coaching staff and the athletic department at Wesleyan as a whole. My negative experiences began the summer before my sophomore year, when I developed plantar fasciitis in my left foot during summer training. The pain from this injury dominated my sophomore cross country season, but I forced myself to run through it. However, once the season ended and I could barely walk, I knew that I needed to take some time to recover from the injury. I knew that my body was telling me that racing during the next season without adjustment wasn’t possible. I wanted to be able to stay in racing shape without further compromising my health, and since I was formerly a competitive swimmer, I thought that training with the swim team for a season would be a reasonable solution. I suggested this to my coach, but he told me that if I didn’t run the indoor track season then I didn’t have a place on the team. I was faced with an ultimatum that did not take my health into consideration, but I was driven by my love for running and decided that I would rather risk injury than lose my place on the team. A few weeks into the indoor season, I fractured the fifth metatarsal of my left foot. The sports doctor my parents found for me theorized that this stress fracture resulted from favoring the outside of my foot (where the fifth metatarsal is located), since I never sufficiently recovered from my summer training injury along the bottom of my foot (where plantar fasciitis occurs). Despite being pushed by my coach to continue running on an injury and compete in the indoor track season, I ultimately lost that entire season to a stress fracture, as well as a good portion of the following outdoor track season. 

I developed another stress fracture during my junior indoor track season, this time in the second metatarsal of my right foot. This injury prevented me from competing for the second half of the indoor track season and the entire outdoor track season. Like sophomore year, I lost a season and a half to a stress fracture and yet again, I was denied appropriate injury-recovery support from my coach. Instead, I received the “fat talk” (as it was called by everyone on the team) several times. Coach Crooke repeatedly told me that I needed to be closer to 100 lbs. At 125 lbs, I was at a healthy B.M.I,  but my coach impressed upon me that my injuries were my fault because I was not at an “optimal running weight”. He would tell me to keep a food diary and share it with him. He consistently compared me to our top runner, telling me what she was doing right and what I was doing wrong in terms of attitude towards running and training. He may have believed that this was motivating, but it clearly and visibly crushed me, as I remember tears welling up in my eyes each time while receiving these fat talks. Each time, I felt hurt and ashamed, and went back to my dorm room alone to cry. I know now that he had no right to shame me by comparing my body to that of another teammate’s. I would like to note that the female assistant coach was always present in my meetings relating to my weight, but that this was not enough to buffer the harm and misinformation that my male coach – with no certified knowledge of female nutrition – was so regularly and unfeelingly dispensing during these types of meetings. 

By the summer before my senior year, I had come to hate running so much that I had no intention of returning to Wesleyan as an athlete. I felt like there was something broken inside of me because something that I used to love so much no longer made me happy. Luckily, over that summer I met a coach with a different perspective who restored my love for running: when I tried to talk to him about my weight, he told me not to focus on that and to just focus on my running. Newly optimistic, I decided to return to Wesleyan as an athlete and had a solid senior year. When I ended my senior cross country season with a stress reaction in my right ankle, I adamantly took the rest I needed, and recovered in time to compete in both the indoor and outdoor track seasons for the first time since I was a freshman. 

The culture of the cross country team at Wesleyan and its neglect by the athletic department misled me to believe that the reason I accumulated bone injuries was because I was “overweight”. I blamed myself for not losing enough weight, and for not losing it fast enough. I obsessed over being lighter so I could be faster. The demonstrated reality was that my fractured bones were never allowed to fully recover, and this is why I was so consistently and predictably injured. I was not supported through these injuries by the coaching or athletic training staff. When I needed to see the athletic trainers or athletic department’s doctor, I felt like a nuisance or distraction as compared to the other ball-sport teams, rather than a responsibility. My teammates and I were told by the athletic training staff that their priority was to provide care to the other teams since those athletes needed to “get outside for practice”, even though that was not a valid discriminating factor between our sports. 

To this day, I struggle with eating because of the normalization and frequency of body shaming my teammates and I were subjected to. I don’t think this would be the case if my college coach hadn’t ingrained in my head that I need to be a certain weight to be a good runner. I’ve thought about ways I could make myself throw up without sticking my finger down my throat. I have gone through periods over the past 5 years of keeping food diaries, detailing everything I eat, including the calories. I don’t really run anymore and I miss it, but I still can’t shake the idea that I am too heavy to be a runner, and that my weight is the reason why I am too injury-prone to be able to do the type of training I would like to do. I don’t want this for any more Wesleyan female cross country or track runners. We should be able to run because we love to. No one should be telling us our bodies aren’t good enough to do something we love. Although I struggle with my weight, I hope to one day find my love for running again.

 

Claire Palmer, Class of 2014

 

After a teammate broke her foot during a race, was not provided medical care and had her injury blamed on her weight, I felt strongly that something needed to be done to change the situation on the team, and scheduled a meeting with then-outgoing athletic director John Biddiscombe… I told them that I was concerned Crooke did not appropriately handle conversations around weight and injuries and that I was worried about disordered eating on the team. Biddiscombe dismissed my concerns, saying he was surprised to hear this because he thought Crooke was sensitive to eating disorders. I told them I felt that Crooke did not provide constructive criticism but rather was personally angry with athletes for not performing the way he wanted and that this further fed the toxic feeling on the team. I received very little response to this and struggled to justify my concerns because I felt I was not taken seriously.

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I ran cross country and track from 2010-2012. During that time I became concerned for my teammates physical and mental health due to an environment created by Crooke that fostered disordered eating and injuries. After a teammate broke her foot during a race, was not provided medical care and had her injury blamed on her weight, I felt strongly that something needed to be done to change the situation on the team, and scheduled a meeting with then-outgoing athletic director John Biddiscombe. In advance of the meeting, I talked with teammates in the classes of 2014 and 2015 to ask if I could share their stories; many of them have also provided testimonials. At that time, no one felt comfortable coming forward and did not want me to share any details. I attribute this to a toxic environment created by Crooke and a fear of retaliation.

In the spring of 2012 I met with Biddiscombe, and the incoming athletic director Mike Whalen also sat in on the meeting. I told them that I was concerned Crooke did not appropriately handle conversations around weight and injuries and that I was worried about disordered eating on the team. Biddiscombe dismissed my concerns, saying he was surprised to hear this because he thought Crooke was sensitive to eating disorders. I told them I felt that Crooke did not provide constructive criticism but rather was personally angry with athletes for not performing the way he wanted and that this further fed the toxic feeling on the team. I received very little response to this and struggled to justify my concerns because I felt I was not taken seriously. Biddiscombe brought up that I and other team members had received disciplinary action in the fall for underage drinking. I tried to explain that while this event had caused tension, there were existing underlying issues with Crooke’s coaching that needed to be addressed. I believe Biddiscombe and Whalen used this event as justification to discount my concerns. They asked what I wanted to change in my one-on-one relationship Crooke and I said nothing had personally happened to me. The meeting ended with no resolution and in the early fall I quit the team.

 

Jessica Levin, Class of 2011

 

My main issue with Coach was what I perceived as a lack of respect for me and the effort and time I put in during the 12 seasons I ran under him. He made this quite clear my senior year at our end of season one-on-one and the end of year award dinner. He seemed to blame me for the team’s poor performance and failure to re-qualify for Nationals that year. At the awards ceremony he opted to forgo giving out what was essentially a token award given to a female athlete on each team. I sat directly next to Coach holding back tears and turning bright red as it was announced that the coach had decided to not give out the award this year.

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If you’re a female athlete, especially a female runner, you’ve undoubtedly struggled inwardly and/or outwardly with your weight and appearance. It’s an unpleasant truth. We should have supportive resources at our disposal to talk through our thoughts and struggles; instead, Coach Crooke has created a culture in which his athletes (both female and male) worry they’ll be the next one singled out for their weight. I never had a direct conversation with Coach about my weight but I was the tallest and broadest woman on the team and he pointed out on multiple occasions that I would be used to block the wind for competitors during races. Consequently, I was worried all 4 years that I’d receive “the talk”. I was already putting so much pressure on myself to run light and look good in my barely there uniform. In my sophomore year I developed anemia as a consequence, barely able to complete some of my races.

Coach did not adjust my training or his expectations during the cross country season. And when my training was adjusted during spring track & field, it was solely based on how he planned to train the men racing the same distances as me. However, my main issue with Coach was what I perceived as a lack of respect for me and the effort and time I put in during the 12 seasons I ran under him. He made this quite clear my senior year at our end of season one-on-one and the end of year award dinner. He seemed to blame me for the team’s poor performance and failure to requalify for Nationals that year. At the awards ceremony he opted to forgo giving out what was essentially a token award given to a female athlete on each team. I sat directly next to Coach holding back tears and turning bright red as it was announced that Coach had decided to not give out the award this year. I was the only senior cross country runner out of a freshman class of 6 who remained on the team, I was PR’ing in the 1500 meter at the time, had the fastest time at Cross Country Regionals for Wes that year, was Captain for Cross Country and Track, and had given him and the team my all for 12 seasons. It felt vindictive. We never discussed it because I was so embarrassed. I know an award seems trivial but to me it felt like the culmination of how he’d treated me and my teammates for 4 years. I hope the administration will finally listen to our concerns and not act like this is the first they’re hearing of them despite years of mentions in reviews and other documented attempts to discuss them. 

 

Carina Flaherty, Class of 2019

 

I talked to Coach Crooke about my eating disorder at our end-of-the-year meeting but did not get much of a response back and I truly believe it was because I was not fast enough for him to really care… A scale was brought down one day at Coach Crooke’s house after a long run and some teammates weighed themselves in front of everyone and made comments about how much they weighed. Some mentioned throwing up after eating in their online logs. This isn’t a drag on my teammates but rather a frustration with a culture that came to be because of how Coach Crooke addressed weight and running in the years prior to me.

I can’t emphasize enough how much those things, whether they impacted everyone the same way or not, really damaged me as an 18 year old girl. Before this I had never tied my weight to my running or my worth. When I saw my coach and my teammates act this way around weight, I was terrified because I had gained weight freshman year…Even with therapy and treatment I still find myself throwing up meals on Thanksgiving, Christmas, birthdays, and regular days.

I am upset that the administration did not care to ask why so many athletes quit, why they were anemic and why they had so many bone injuries….I hope that the athletics department takes action to show they are not complicit in allowing athletes to destroy their relationships with themselves, food, their body, and their sport for years to come.

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I would like to voice my support for this petition. Being on the cross country team at Wesleyan taught me so much about dedication and discipline and drive for competition and running. I will always be grateful for that opportunity to compete in a sport I loved so much for Wesleyan. I want to share my experience on the team with weight and running given how important this problem is, and its ongoing nature on the team. 

When I joined the team in 2015, I was excited to learn from my new coach and older teammates about living the “lifestyle” of putting training as a top priority in college. However, how much we weighed got caught up in that “lifestyle” way more than it needs to be for young athletes at Wesleyan. Though I was never personally told to lose weight by Coach Crooke, one of the first things I heard was how he had told other girls on my team who were similar to me in their height/weight ratio to lose weight. This changed how I viewed my own training. A scale was brought down one day at Coach Crooke’s house after a long run and some teammates weighed themselves in front of everyone and made comments about how much they weighed. Some mentioned throwing up after eating in their online logs. This isn’t a drag on my teammates but rather a frustration with a culture that came to be because of how Coach Crooke addressed weight and running in the years prior to me. I can’t emphasize enough how much those things, whether they impacted everyone the same way or not, really damaged me as an 18 year old girl. Before this I had never tied my weight to my running or my worth. When I saw my coach and my teammates act this way around weight, I was terrified because I had gained weight freshman year. 

I resorted to throwing up to control my shape and run better. I knew it wasn’t healthy and I went to counseling and saw the nutritionist at the health center, but I don’t think I received that information soon enough or in a way that tied it to my athletic performance. I can’t emphasize enough how much the team becomes tied to who you are. We run together, eat together, stay in on Friday and Saturday nights and get up before the rest of campus for long runs on the weekends together. It was my community and I was seeing that in order to run fast and be worth something in that community I had to be skinnier. I talked to Coach Crooke about my eating disorder at our end-of-the-year meeting but did not get much of a response back and I truly believe it was because I was not fast enough for him to really care. I lost as much weight as I could throughout the next year in an attempt to prove myself. I was eventually almost under 100 pounds, I lost my period, and my run times were sporadic but I was so proud of myself because I thought this was what dedication looked like. My weight was not sustainable and I fluctuated drastically in weight over the next few seasons which derailed my self-confidence that was built on my being skinny. I went abroad and quit after coming back because of how much mental and physical pain I was putting myself through to lose weight.

I do not blame all my hurt on Coach Crooke. He has talents in coaching that I know many of us admire, and I want to believe that he has changed since my time on the team. But as a recent graduate I know he still does not get it right all the time and something must change to prevent this from becoming the story of any other athletes at Wesleyan. Even with therapy and treatment I still find myself throwing up meals on Thanksgiving, Christmas, birthdays, and regular days. I’m not sure I will ever be able to forget all the calories in food that I drilled into my head or lose an unhealthy number that is my “ideal weight”. This sport puts so much pressure on athletes to be skinny and there needed to be more action from Coach Crooke to not let this be so pervasive on his team. I am upset that it is his literal job to care for his athletes when they come into his program, whether he deems them fast enough for his attention or not, but that he didn’t care for many of us when it was clear we were struggling. I am upset that the administration did not care to ask why so many athletes quit, why they were anemic and why they had so many bone injuries.

I think it is important to note that I never wrote any of my experiences in a coaching evaluation and I think the issue is in how the coaching evaluations are administered. You are given a paper with only a small paragraph space in which to write, your whole team is around the table, and people are leaving as you are writing. Furthermore, the evaluations were not introduced as if it they would actually be read by athletics administration—why would I write about something so personal and difficult if it was just getting randomly submitted to my coach with no structured follow up?

This cannot continue to be the narrative for competitive running. I hope that the athletics department takes action to show they are not complicit in allowing athletes to destroy their relationships with themselves, food, their body, and their sport for years to come. 

 

Anonymous, Class of 2017

 

In the second semester of my freshman year I was pulled into Coach Crooke’s office alone for the infamous fat talk. “You’ve gained weight,” he said, and told me to shed 15 pounds. It was not a question, it was not a conversation, and the directive certainly did not include guidance….Though I’ve since come to realize that the “race weight” he gave me was completely arbitrary, at the time it became a barometer of my self-worth.

I am most upset with the egregious negligence of the Wesleyan administration for ignoring this year after year after year. How could you watch this program churn through women and never question why? How could you watch teams full of potential dwindle due to injury and never look to their leader for an answer? Counseling young women on nutrition and weight is beyond Coach Crooke’s realm of expertise and the administration is long overdue in stepping in. The requests listed here are reasonable, achievable, and, frankly, owed to the huge number of women who have been damaged and continue to bear the effects of this program.

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I was a four-year athlete of the Wesleyan cross country and track teams. I have generally looked positively on my time on the team, though as the years have passed it’s hard to ignore the pain that this program has caused me and many of my teammates long after graduation.  

As was described in Christina’s letter, in the second semester of my freshman year I was pulled into Coach Crooke’s office alone for the infamous fat talk. “You’ve gained weight,” he said, and told me to shed 15 pounds. It was not a question, it was not a conversation, and the directive certainly did not include guidance. 

I disliked using the scale Coach had placed right in the cross country and track locker room, where my teammates could easily see me on it, so I located one in a more discrete corner and nearly every day I would slip away from the group to step on it. Though I’ve since come to realize that the “race weight” he gave me was completely arbitrary, at the time it became a barometer of my self-worth. My day could be made or broken depending on what that scale said, and I spent weeks going to bed hungry until it matched what he expected of me.

Coach had many -isms, statements that he liked to say and were often repeated. One of these that I remember was “Boys cope with stress with alcohol, girls cope with food,” and, by his reasoning, that’s why women might gain weight throughout college. It is well established that women’s bodies change throughout early adulthood and many undergo a normal athletic plateau as a result. In retrospect, however, his logic allowed him to blame any weight gain on an inability to cope with emotions rather than embrace the plateau and work with our changing bodies.

I think it is important to acknowledge how these talks affect the culture of the team from the top down. When the coach –– the person we all look to for wisdom, support, and approval –– tells girls that they are too big, a detrimental and fundamental shift in the way we interact with each other is almost inevitable. His talks engendered a comparative and judgmental attitude between teammates, which is to say that even girls who were not directly consulted on their weight were affected by the culture that Coach promoted and endorsed. We were constantly changing clothes around each other, showering around each other, and eating around each other –– each of these experiences were made isolating by the culture of body shaming on the team.

This interaction and the subsequent food logs Coach requested changed my relationship with food irreparably. It took enormous spatial and temporal distance from Wesleyan to realize that habits which were completely normalized within the program were cause for concern. After graduation, I found that living on my own I could micro-manage my nutrition even further, fully embracing a notion of “health” characterized by deprivation and restriction.  I wasted an absurd amount of brain-space worrying and stressing about putting anything unhealthy into my body. I used food as a reward and exercise as punishment, promising an extra hard run or a week without bread as penance for junk food. I would dodge hanging out with friends to avoid explaining why I wasn’t eating or drinking anything. I had a panic attack when my weight changed and again when I found stretch marks on my body. It took a friend completely outside of Wesleyan, a full year after I had left the program, to tell me “No, that is not normal.”

I am most upset with the egregious negligence of the Wesleyan administration for ignoring this year after year after year. How could you watch this program churn through women and never question why? How could you watch teams full of potential dwindle due to injury and never look to their leader for an answer? Counseling young women on nutrition and weight is beyond Coach Crooke’s realm of expertise and the administration is long overdue in stepping in. The requests listed here are reasonable, achievable, and, frankly, owed to the huge number of women who have been damaged and continue to bear the effects of this program.

 

Anonymous

 

I still deal with body issues daily from just the fear of receiving the fat talk, a talk given by the cross country coach to many females on the team whose bodies started to transition into that of an adult.

By my senior year, three teammates had femur fractures, the strongest bone in our body, which is said to harder than concrete. One girl on the team fell on ice and broke her tail bone. Upon medical workup she was told she had the bone density of an 80-year-old woman

I don’t think anyone should be talking to a vulnerable population (18-22 year old teenage girls) about their weight outside of a nutritionist or someone otherwise trained to do so. This is a D-III college, none of us joined to become Olympians. My passion for running was taken away from me by someone who would scapegoat his inadequacies on our insecurities.

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I still deal with body issues daily from just the fear of receiving the fat talk, a talk given by the cross country coach to many females on the team whose bodies started to transition into that of an adult. By my senior year, three teammates had femur fractures, the strongest bone in our body, which is said to be harder than concrete. One girl on the team fell on ice and broke her tailbone. Upon medical workup she was told she had the bone density of an 80-year-old woman. Many girls felt depressed but we stuck with it because this was where we felt loved by our teammates. 

My diet in college was a bagel for lunch and a bag of smart food for dinner to keep myself between 112-115lbs at a height of 5’7”. Instead of embracing my new body, we were ashamed of becoming women — because that made us “slow”. I don’t think anyone should be talking to a vulnerable population (18-22 year old teenage girls) about their weight outside of a nutritionist or someone otherwise trained to do so. This is a D-III college, none of us joined to become Olympians. My passion for running was taken away from me by someone who would scapegoat his inadequacies on our insecurities. It took me two years to do any form of running again and after almost ten years of almost weekly therapy, I’m almost at the point where I don’t skip meals and love my body. 

 

Anonymous, Class of 2014

 

While I was on the team, I lost a significant amount of weight, started missing periods, and struggled with constant pain in my legs. At the end of my sophomore year, I realized something had to change and went to Coach Crooke to ask if I could just run cross country instead of all three seasons. He told me no and that my injuries were a ‘burden on his time.’ He left me no choice but to quit the team entirely, even though I did not want to.

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I am signing this petition due to my negative experiences during my two years running cross country and track at Wesleyan. While I was on the team, I lost a significant amount of weight, started missing periods, and struggled with constant pain in my legs. At the end of my sophomore year, I realized something had to change and went to Coach Crooke to ask if I could just run cross country instead of all three seasons. He told me no and that my injuries were a “burden on his time.” He left me no choice but to quit the team entirely, even though I did not want to. He told me how fast I could have been if I decided to keep running, but did not offer any strategies to deal with my health issues. I have been running since I was 12, but running for Coach Crooke at Wesleyan severely damaged my relationship with the sport, with food, and with my body image. I hope that this petition is a wake-up call to the university and brings about positive improvements to the women’s cross country and track teams. 

 

Anonymous, Class of 2013

 

During my time with Wesleyan Cross Country, I made some of my very best friends and also experienced my lowest points as far as self-esteem. I’ve never regretted putting so much energy into the team… While recovering from injury, I sometimes went two weeks of attending practice without hearing from the coaching staff. I was accused of not being dedicated to the team when I missed some runs to take care of my young cousins while my aunt was undergoing chemotherapy during spring break.

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During my time with Wesleyan Cross Country, I made some of my very best friends and also experienced my lowest points as far as self-esteem. I’ve never regretted putting so much energy into the team. We practiced and raced hard, and designed our college experiences around running. I struggled under the coaching style of the program, but my teammates and the sport itself were enough for me to stick with the team. While recovering from injury, I sometimes went two weeks of attending practice without hearing from the coaching staff. I was accused of not being dedicated to the team when I missed some runs to take care of my young cousins while my aunt was undergoing chemotherapy during spring break. I almost always felt unsuccessful after workouts and races. I coached some teammates through quitting our team because I could see that it was not making them happy or healthy, even though it made me so sad to see them quit something they loved.

After running slower than ever my final season of senior year, I was told it might have been because I was overweight. I wished I had been told earlier and differently so I could have been faster. I was never sure what I was doing wrong. I always knew that the coaching staff cared a lot about our team, and were very dedicated. I enjoyed spending time with them and running with them. After our final cross country race senior year, seven of us stood in a circle after running together every day for four years, waiting for what feedback Coach Crooke would give us. Usually it was functional and brief. That day he said nothing, tears rolling down his cheeks. He just said how proud he was of us. It was clear how much we all cared.

It has taken me years to redevelop a purely joyful relationship with running, and I don’t think there is just one reason for that. I’m so glad female athletes are demanding to have their mental and physical health in sport be taken seriously, whether they’re professional or D-III. I know changes listed in this petition would have helped me a lot through college.

 

 

Alanah Hall, Class of 2015

 

Having this advice come from another Coach, from another woman, as well as Coach Crooke made me question how well I knew my own body. I thought I had always been slim, but maybe I couldn’t see the fat and weight gain that everyone else could? Maybe this was why a bone in my foot had broken out of nowhere? No one seemed to believe that the significant increase in my weekly mileage since high school was the problem. No one asked me about my overall health and well-being. All my injuries were ascribed to my apparent actions and choices; namely my presumed weight gain and eating habits. 

Ultimately, during November 2012 of my sophomore year, I decided I had to leave competitive running for my physical and mental health. When I told Coach this, I was upset and close to crying. Instead of working with me or comforting me, he was so surprised and angry that he threw the pen he was holding down hard on his desk right in front of me. He didn’t throw it at me, but I remember being abruptly startled. The message that I had somehow disappointed him and wasted his time was clear.

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During February 2012 of my freshman year, Coach Crooke approached me with excitement about my potential to compete at nationals and strive to be an All-American in the future. I was thrilled by his encouragement and attention (as it was not given easily) and proud to be a freshman he had taken an interest in. This was also the first time he mentioned to me that I should be careful not to gain weight during my freshman year; he had seen over the years that this was a common phenomenon on the women’s team. No specific weight was discussed. He said that I would need to stay focused and serious about running – that when talented athletes did not reach their potential it was usually because they went abroad or got distracted. I was not worried about this happening to me or disconcerted by the advice at the time. I was just happy to be reaching this level of athletic achievement. I understood that my success in running would depend on controlling my effort, focus, and injuries.  

Unfortunately, despite serious effort and focus, my body hit a wall. I was still making it through races and workouts and hitting my times, but I was not performing at the level I wanted and often felt generally “off”. I was sore and fatigued all the time, despite plenty of sleep. I remember ice bucketing after practice while teammates headed to dinner and being very frustrated with my body for not responding to my ever-increasing training efforts. When my constant shin pain came up in conversation with Coach, he suggested that weight gain was contributing to the injury. 

In April 2012, I felt a deep pain in my foot just before the 5k at Bates college and knew something was wrong. I ended up running that 5k with a fractured third metatarsal in my right foot. I can’t say this situation was all Coach’s fault, but I know that (in addition to pressure I was putting on myself) part of the reason I didn’t step off the starting line was because I thought he would react negatively and I didn’t want to disappoint him. As a 19-year-old freshman, my whole identity was wrapped up in the team. I was fully immersed in a power dynamic and hierarchy where Coach’s good opinion meant everything, and I was scared of losing it. I didn’t know how to stand up for myself or my health, or that I even could. 

The whole experience (the way I was treated, not just the fracture) severely damaged my relationship to running.  I could barely walk after that race and my foot was so swollen that I had to gingerly pry my spikes off my right foot. I sat inside the track with one shoe off for a long time and was unsure of how to get back to the bus until one of my friends realized I was missing and came to find me. At the bus, Coach expressed anger at my slow time, and I mentioned my severe foot pain as the reason. Though he apologized for this later, Coach literally waved his hand in dismissal and said “so what” when I mentioned the pain. He seemed to think it was an excuse I had made up. After the 4-hour bus ride home, my foot looked very bruised and I couldn’t put weight on it when we arrived at Freeman late at night. I’m not sure how I would have made it back to my dorm if one of my teammates hadn’t run home and grabbed her car to drive me. The next day, on borrowed crutches, I had to take a cab to the Middlesex Hospital ER with a friend because there was no support available to me from coach or the athletic department on a Sunday morning. My fracture showed up immediately on an x-ray. It was incredibly frustrating that no one from the trainer at Bates, to Coach, to the doctor in the ER believed my foot pain was valid until it was revealed on screen.  

Coach Crooke was sincerely sorry and disappointed for me that this had happened and was encouraging about my ability to come back from this strong as ever next fall. He understood my commitment to the sport on a new level and at the time I felt we had a positive relationship. He did not bring up my weight in my end of season meeting with him, though a few days later, he had the assistant coach, Laura Pierce, have a special one-on-one meeting with me about my weight. I remember specifically that I was in a boot and on crutches when we met at the indoor track, so it must have taken a lot of work for me to even make it to this meeting. She told me to pay attention to my belt to make sure I hadn’t had to let it out any notches since the start of the year. Coach Pierce is a very kind and nurturing person and I could tell she really didn’t want to upset or trigger me as she brought this up. I went out of my way to let her know it was okay to talk about because I was “serious about running”. Part of me felt that it was okay to talk about given my goals, and part of me was angry about the whole conversation even then. We talked about how any extra pounds “on top” could add a lot of torque to my feet and that this was likely why the break had occurred. While Coach wasn’t there, I believe these were all things he told her to say. I remember being confused and unsure about if I had actually gained a lot of weight without noticing or not. Having this advice come from another Coach, from another woman, as well as Coach Crooke made me question how well I knew my own body. I thought I had always been slim, but maybe I couldn’t see the fat and weight gain that everyone else could? Maybe this was why a bone in my foot had broken out of nowhere? No one seemed to believe that the significant increase in my weekly mileage since high school was the problem. No one asked me about my overall health and well-being. All my injuries were ascribed to my apparent actions and choices; namely my presumed weight gain and eating habits. 

 Looking back, I feel relief that these events didn’t trigger an eating disorder or an obsession with calories. But these conversations did make me see that there were no limits to what I could do for success in the sport. Rather than focusing on food, I focused on pushing myself harder than I ever had before to come back strong. I was also very hard on myself when I felt sluggish or drained (which was happening more than it ever had before with training). I felt a strange mix of frustration and pride, as I think many of us did, that people outside the team couldn’t understand my intense commitment to running and why it felt so important. I was also being strongly encouraged to persevere by my teammates and by coach. He called me regularly over the summer to ask how training was going and even bumped my weekly mileage up by 8 more miles (to 48 miles a week) despite my lingering foot pain. 

During my first race back in September 2012 at the Wesleyan Invite, I pushed myself so hard to place where I would have before my foot injury that I blacked out about 100m before the finish line and couldn’t remember the end of the race. I am told I collapsed as soon as I got to the finish line. It was assumed that I was dehydrated and that racing in the heat had triggered an unusual reaction in my body. I was hyperventilating and swaying in a sitting position when I came to and I couldn’t feel ice on my skin when the trainer put it on my body to cool me down. For the second (and arguably more serious) time, no one other than my teammates had my back when I needed help after a race. I could barely walk back to my sports bag, but Coach and the on-site trainer seemed to assume I was fine because I was standing, and they focused elsewhere. I had to ask someone’s parent for a ride from the course back to Freeman while most of the team was doing a cool down because I didn’t think I could walk there. I was barely coherent and my heart rate felt unbearably high. When I sat on the ground outside Freeman and couldn’t get back up again, one of my friends called 911. At this point Coach Crooke realized what was going on and came outside. I was taken to the Middlesex Hospital ER where I was given an EKG and IV fluids. Coach Pierce accompanied me, stayed with me, and drove me back to my dorm when I was released a few hours later. I remember she was very concerned and encouraged me to rest. I could barely run two miles a few days later, and I was struggling to maintain even our cool down pace of 8 min/mile. At the time, I thought I properly expressed to Coach how much I was struggling, but maybe he didn’t know. He also probably should have worked a lot harder to find out how I was doing given my history of pushing myself too hard. Either way, I should have been pulled from the next meet, but instead I was put in another race less than one week later on September 28 in Lehigh, PA.  

I pushed myself to race and place where I was “supposed to” again. As a result, I blacked out and collapsed once more. I came to both embarrassed at my weakness and extremely disoriented in the training tent. Luckily, my dad (a physician) was at this meet and found me right away. He recognized the symptoms of exercise-induced hypoglycemia (that somehow neither coach nor any of the trainers had seen) and made me eat an apple to raise my blood sugar which helped immediately. If he hadn’t been there, I’m very certain I could have ended up in an ER again, but this time by myself in Pennsylvania. I truly wish things hadn’t gotten this bad and that Coach had stepped in to prevent me from racing. Instead, I felt a lot of pressure both before and after this race to shake off these “incidents” and “setbacks” and come back quickly to help the team have a great year.  Eventually, I was forced to take time off and undergo cardiac testing by the athletic department. While no heart damage was detected, it was clear to my doctors that I had been overtraining and was very fatigued. I also had amenorrhea, a stress reaction in my lower left tibia, and unresolved pain in my right foot where the metatarsal break had occurred. 

Ultimately, during November 2012 of my sophomore year, I decided I had to leave competitive running for my physical and mental health. When I told Coach this, I was upset and close to crying. Instead of working with me or comforting me, he was so surprised and angry that he threw the pen he was holding down hard on his desk right in front of me. He didn’t throw it at me, but I remember being abruptly startled. The message that I had somehow disappointed him and wasted his time was clear. It seemed he just thought he had misjudged my commitment to the team and the sport, and that I was not the athlete he thought I was. I didn’t get the impression that he was going to do much further thinking or self-reflection about the many incidents that had led to my decision to leave. Unfortunately, this is a suspicion that has been recently confirmed as I’ve learned that nothing changed in the next few years and that many other athletes had similar experiences. This meeting was the last time I ever met with Coach Crooke. Neither Coach nor anyone from the athletic department ever followed up with my decision to leave the team or made sure that I was okay. 

It was heartbreaking for me that things had gotten to this point with a sport I had loved for years that had once made me feel confident, happy, and strong. On our team, we were told that people who “didn’t love running enough” or “weren’t on varsity” were the ones who left the team, and since I did truly love it and I had been competing well, I didn’t know where that left me. Some part of me felt relieved that I had walked away when I did, but for a long time, I also felt like a failure and blamed only myself that I hadn’t been able to succeed as a college athlete. I see now that this cannot be the whole truth, and that I was influenced heavily by my environment. It’s too reductive to say that everything that happened to me was directly Coach Crooke’s fault. I think he was sorry and concerned about the health events that I went through after they happened. I even think that he wanted me to succeed at collegiate running and that we often had a friendly relationship and got along well. But his actions and choices, intentional or not, did hurt me on multiple occasions. He listened too little and too late. He had a limited understanding of women’s health in running and focused too exclusively on weight gain and iron levels. He treated team members very differently based on their speed and blatantly had favorite athletes. He often conflated focused, healthy, goal-setting and an obsession with performance; frequently encouraging the latter. In my experience, he was generally reluctant and unwilling to alter training plans in response to injuries, personal health needs, or input from athletes. He had very rigid ideas about the “right” way to train and it was his way or no way. He seemed unconcerned with high attrition rates on the team, believing this to be an issue with the individuals who left rather than recognizing a more systemic problem. Ultimately, my athletic ability was drained rather than nurtured. I was pushed instead of protected on several occasions when I really needed help and support from my coach. 

I take no pleasure in recounting these events now, as a 27 year old, or in publicly criticizing someone I used to look up to. But, I decided I needed to write down my story because I wouldn’t wish my experiences on another runner. The injuries and episodes I have detailed here had a negative impact on me during a formative time and affected many aspects of my life at Wesleyan. It took several years for me to learn how to push myself athletically in a healthy way again and to trust my body again after these experiences. 

As I end this statement, I want to add that I still enjoyed parts of my time on the team. I would have left a lot earlier, and the decision would have been a lot simpler if that weren’t true. As a Wesleyan runner, I made incredible friends with strong, kind, thoughtful, and hard-working people, many of whom I am still very close with today. Other women on the team supported me through the difficult experiences I have described, and I hope they feel that I was supportive to them as well. I am very proud of our friendships. We managed to laugh and have fun together even in some extremely low points. (A metric more of our own resilience than of a healthy team environment.) The relationships that I built on the team are why I still think sports can be part of a happy, healthy, and well-rounded college experience, despite everything I’ve described. But, I think that as a school and as a running community in general, we can do better. We have to do better than we are doing right now. We have to focus more on women’s voices, and less on our weight. We have to value joy, effort, and health as well as times, place, and results. We should absolutely use collegiate running as a way to compete fiercely and proudly. It is a privilege to get to focus on self-improvement during these years and a unique opportunity to challenge ourselves and our competitors to be the best we can be. But we cannot hold up these ideals as excuses to ignore the needs of our bodies, our athletes, our teammates, and ourselves. I believe that a more holistic and self-directed training program, one grounded in these values, could have led to different results for me. I hope in the future, it could for someone else. 

 

Julia Mark, Class of 2013

 

I stand in solidarity with the other women on our team who had different and more detrimental experiences surrounding weight. In defiance of the outdated model that “lighter = faster” I propose that “healthy, strong, aerobically fit, and emotionally balanced = faster”. I believe that we must train in a way that best suits our individual biomechanics.

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My experience as a student athlete at Wesleyan represents a mixture of emotions and experiences: joy, sadness, pride, shame, friendship, bravery, and gratitude. For all students – athletes or not – the college years are formative ones. We arrive as teenagers and leave as young adults. But even upon graduating at around age 22, we are still quite young. The University must create a healthy balance between autonomy and support. 

The vast majority of collegiate runners have worried (or even obsessed) about their body size, whether or not a coach was involved in promoting this anxiety. Yes, being in top shape often correlates with having a lower BMI. For too long, however, female-bodied people have been expected to stay girlish in their build. I grew taller by nearly two inches taller in college and was fifteen pounds heavier when I graduated. Still, I raced my fastest 5k during my final year of college.

Coach Crooke never brought up my weight with me, though I did bring up the topic with him. My worry was the result of a larger cultural issue within women’s distance running. I was experiencing some foot pain and asked Coach if he thought it could be due to the fact that I had recently gained a few pounds. He assured me that my weight was not an issue. That being said, I would like to underscore two points: 

 

  1. I stand in solidarity with the other women on our team who had different and more detrimental experiences surrounding weight.
  2. In defiance of the outdated model that “lighter = faster” I propose that  “healthy, strong, aerobically fit, and emotionally balanced = faster”. I believe that we must train in a way that best suits our individual biomechanics. We need to adjust the mindset around weight and running and take a more holistic, responsible approach. We must give athletes and coaches the proper resources to implement such an approach.

 

I would like to now share a more personal part of my story, and suggest how the student-athlete experience can be improved for those who are ill or injured. A few weeks before the start of my sophomore year, I got sick with a “stomach bug” that didn’t resolve. It would take a few more months to confirm a diagnosis of ulcerative colitis (UC). UC is a type of inflammatory bowel disease and is the result of an overreactive immune system. It has some intense and embarrassing symptoms (it’s a gastrointestinal disease, after all). Even so, it is often called an “invisible illness” because people with UC can look relatively healthy from the outside. 

When I found out the root of my symptoms, I told Coach about the diagnosis but didn’t go into the gnarly details. During that first year of being sick when my race times unsurprisingly slowed, Coach questioned my dedication to the sport and the team. This was devastating. Over time, I believe he understood more about how ulcerative colitis impacted my running. My training was adjusted and we developed a good rapport. After my final race of college he simply said, “there were too many variables” – and he was right.

I take responsibility for not being clearer in my communication with Coach. In being compassionate toward my younger self, I recognize that I was still just a teenager. I suffered from depression. I don’t like bringing attention to myself. I was in pain and afraid of never feeling healthy again. Part of me could not accept that UC was taking away a sense of normalcy in my life, which created yet another barrier to discussing the disease’s full implications.

I wish my younger self had an established channel of communication between the campus health center, my professors, and my coaches. With my permission, this could have opened a more meaningful dialogue around my illness. As a three-season athlete with UC, I wish that a nutritionist was following up with me. I needed an advocate and a better support system, especially during the years when I was most ill. When I was sick I did not have the energy to invent such a system and would have benefited if certain protocols were already in place.

I recall sitting in class during my Junior year feeling simply awful. I thought to myself, “Nobody else in this classroom knows how much pain and discomfort I am in.” That’s when I realized that, most likely, there were other people around me who were also suffering silently. We all have our internal battles – whether physical or emotional. Therefore, it is important to foster a supportive environment. In the context of an athletic department, this means checking in regularly with athletes about their training, nutrition, and psychological well-being. It means having systems in place for athletes who are injured or sick so that they can communicate effectively with professors and coaches.

As a 28-year-old looking back, I cringe at various memories.  I wish I had been more assertive in certain situations and more carefree in others. Overall, I am proud of the time I spent as a student-athlete and member of the women’s cross-country team. Our team worked hard and made great strides (pun intended), and I am proud of some of my personal achievements as well. To this day, some of my very best friends are those I met while running at Wesleyan. I hope that these testimonials help to improve the collegiate athletic experience for current and future students.

 

Kerry Nix, Class of 2015 

 

I believe Coach Crooke did not pay any mind to my complaints of pain because I was not one of fastest athletes on the team. His negligent coaching made my tendonitis worse, which I am still dealing with eight years later.

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My freshman year at Wesleyan, I ran cross country and began the track & field season under Coach John Crooke, from 2011-2012. I had a productive cross country season, performing about evenly with my high school bests, and finished consistently in the front-middle of the Junior Varsity races. I began the Track season feeling optimistic about breaking personal records and moving up in the team rankings. In February of 2012 I felt a sharp pain in my knee during a training run, and after talking it over with Crooke, was told to train on the elliptical until the pain dissipated. Although I spent hours on the elliptical each week, doing the equivalents of long runs and speed workouts on the machine, the pain continued. For over two months, Crooke had me exercising on the elliptical and power walking  before he recommended an MRI for my knee. The MRI revealed severe tendonitis and my doctors advised me to stop any painful exercise immediately. I believe Coach Crooke did not pay any mind to my complaints of pain because I was not one of fastest athletes on the team. His negligent coaching made my tendonitis worse, which I am still dealing with eight years later.

 

Haley Keyko, Class of 2016

 

Coach Crooke was very abrasive and cold when it came to talking about my body. I still remember the day in the gym he talked to me about my period and suggested I go on birth control. I felt extremely uncomfortable being asked these questions in front of the entire gym, but shrugged it off knowing other women had had similar experiences with him.

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In my time on the cross country and track teams, I struggled with injury. For the sole year I was on the teams, I sustained injury after injury, never actually being able to compete as a result. Coach Crooke did not entirely understand how or what to do with me, and continued to increase my cross training so I wouldn’t fall behind, even as my body was clearly incapable. Coach Crooke was very abrasive and cold when it came to talking about my body. I still remember the day in the gym he talked to me about my period and suggested I go on birth control. I felt extremely uncomfortable being asked these questions in front of the entire gym, but shrugged it off knowing other women had had similar experiences with him. After reading Christina’s testimony, I realized that what I had experienced was just a minor infraction, but still part of the greater deleterious problem on the women’s team. I ended up quitting the team as I felt like I had lost any sort of joy that I had once gotten from running, but the women who stayed continued to be mistreated. I hope that mine along with everyone else’s stories paint a clear picture of the mistreatment of the women on the team, and what steps need to be taken to remedy this situation. 

 

Jullianne Riggs, Class of 2017

 

It was not until recently that I considered that it might not have been my body that was the problem. It was the program. Coach Crooke’s plan was very simple, 40-48 miles a week, almost all on concrete, less if you were feeling tired, more if you were feeling good. There was little stretching or physical therapy…. Many runners like myself found themselves trapped in a cycle of injury, partial recovery, minimal running success, followed by another injury…

I saw this same disordered eating in my teammates. I read it on their online running logs and saw it on their plates at the dining hall, but I never said anything. It wasn’t because I was too scared, it was due to my almost complete lack of awareness. Eating disorders were not on my radar, despite the fact that as female racing athletes, we were at an extremely high risk for developing eating disorders, anemia, and amenorrhea (absence of periods).

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My freshman year, I walked onto Wesleyan women’s cross country and distance track teams in the hopes of finding community and structure. I left the team three years later feeling like I got what I came for, but knowing that I did not consider my experience a success.

Two weeks into my first semester, I developed a tibial stress fracture on my right leg, sending me to the gym to elliptical for the entirety of the rest of the season. I assumed this was an unfortunate beginning, that soon I’d be on track to getting faster and stronger, and enjoying my time as a runner. But over the next few years, it seemed my body just wasn’t cut out for distance running. I developed two more stress injuries, as well as a chronic calf strain that I still struggle with today. I spent hours and hours on the elliptical, biking, and swimming, never feeling like a true member of my team. I would get better, but every few months some sort of pain came creeping back.

It was not until recently that I considered that it might not have been my body that was the problem. It was the program. Coach Crooke’s plan was very simple, 40-48 miles a week, almost all on concrete, less if you were feeling tired, more if you were feeling good. There was little stretching or physical therapy. While many of my teammates seemed to be getting faster and faster each season, others, like myself, wore down, physically and mentally. 

Injuries were acknowledged, but taboo. Runners, including myself, were scared to report pain and discomfort to Coach Crooke. We were scared of both the diagnosis (you’re hurt, go elliptical) and the demotion to a second-class status. When an athlete is injured, they need attention and encouragement. Instead I felt ignored and burdensome, embarrassed to be at practice. I could tell my training was an afterthought and could see the blank look on my coach’s face when I told him I was still in pain. He did not care for my personal well-being. Coach Crooke only cared for us when we were fast, predictable and obedient.

There were athletic trainers available to us, but few of us ever visited them and the treatments were suboptimal. Many of my visits to the trainer involved waiting for them to finish up with other athletes and then receiving simple ice or heat treatment, methods that are ineffective for chronic bone and muscle injuries. Complete rest was
rarely the prescription. Instead, pain or tiredness was met with shorter runs or cross training.

Many runners like myself found themselves trapped in a cycle of injury, partial recovery, minimal running success, followed by another injury. All the while, our mental stamina continued to dwindle. My only truly successful season was when I had a class that interfered with Tuesday practices. Unbeknownst to my coach and teammates, I cut many of my solo workouts on these days short and often didn’t workout at all. 

This was also the season in which I developed an unhealthy relationship with food. The summer prior, Coach Crooke had asked us to keep food logs. Although proper nutrition and calorie intake is important for athletes to become successful, we were given little context as to why we had to keep these logs. I was 19. Before then I had never put too much thought or concern into what I put into my body. I ate when I was hungry and tried to keep it balanced, unconcerned with calories or numbers on a scale. But when we returned to Wesleyan, I kept thinking about the numbers. I would count calories most meals, treating it as a game to limit my intake at breakfast or lunch so I could have more at dinner. For about a month, I ate almost no carbohydrates: no bread, no rice, no pasta or cereal. I remember getting takeout with a teammate and snapping at her when she asked me why I wasn’t eating any rice with my Thai curry. I was the lightest I had ever been, happy and healthy. Looking back, I realize I had disordered eating.

I saw this same disordered eating in my teammates. I read it on their online running logs and saw it on their plates at the dining hall, but I never said anything. It wasn’t because I was too scared, it was due to my almost complete lack of awareness. Eating disorders were not on my radar, despite the fact that as female racing athletes, we were at an extremely high risk for developing eating disorders, anemia, and amenorrhea (absence of periods). No one emphasized the risks of unhealthy eating, we had no sports psychologist or nutritionist, no formal method for reporting or receiving consultation for any struggles we experienced. If there was such a support system at Wesleyan, I have no recollection of being told about it. Our main contact in this realm was an unsympathetic, middle-aged male coach. 

I had a great experience running in high school, but over the course of my three years with cross country, I fell out of love with the sport. While there were moments of intense happiness and success, I often felt tired and slow. I was frustrated with our coach and recognized that it was a flawed system, but felt at a loss to do anything about it. Our only outlet seemed to be coaching evaluations, which were given on the day of Spring Fling in a public room, to be written by hand. 

I do not regret my time on the team. However, to this day I still say quitting the fall semester of my senior year was one of the best decisions I ever made. And my experience was not an anomaly: of the eight women that joined the team my freshman year, only four graduated as athletes. 

A lot of people will read these testimonials, these statements of struggles with injury, body weight, and mental stamina, and say that this is just what competitive running is. You are going to be in a battle with your body to stay light. You are going to fracture bones and strain muscles. You are going to struggle mentally and physically. You are going to be coached by individuals that are hard to please.

The narrative is that this is just what happens to female racing athletes. That should not be a fact. Instead of filing these stories away as tributes to the “intensity” of the sport, we should be asking why this keeps happening again and again. Why do we continue to let athletic programs destroy the bodies of female racing athletes? Why do we fail to provide them with outlets and support? Why, when they try to speak up, are we not listening?

 

Maryann Platt, Class of 2011

 

Coach Crooke’s lack of ability to relate to women or have productive conversations with them negatively affected them individually, and the women’s cross country team as a whole.

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While I was only on the track team under Coach Curry, I was friends with all of the cross country team and saw how Coach Crooke’s lack of ability to relate to women or have productive conversations with them negatively affected them individually, and the women’s cross country team as a whole.

 

Haleigh Hoch, Class of 2011

 

Crooke is the reason I left running freshman year. He ruined something I had loved for half a decade.

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Crooke is the reason I left running freshman year. He ruined something I had loved for half a decade. 

 

Anonymous, Class of 2013

 

… The environment took the joy out of running for me and led me to quit the team during indoor track my sophomore year.

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I support the other members of the team. While I did not experience the health and psychological struggles of my teammates, I remember my teammates and friends talking about whether they had gotten “the fat talk” from Coach Crooke. I believe I wasn’t on Coach’s radar to worry about in terms of weight loss or training because I was one of the slower runners. Regardless, the environment took the joy out of running for me and led me to quit the team during indoor track my sophomore year. 

 

Rachel Leicher, Class of 2015

 

As a slower member of the team, I hadn’t gotten a lot of attention from Coach. I had lost a good portion of my freshman year indoor season to illness and then proceeded to race on my stress fractured foot during spring track, as I felt pressure to compete given I had missed so many races that year already.

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I left the team right before the start of my sophomore year due to a stress fracture in my foot. As a slower member of the team, I hadn’t gotten a lot of attention from Coach. I had lost a good portion of my freshman year indoor season to illness and then proceeded to race on my stress fractured foot during spring track, as I felt pressure to compete given I had missed so many races that year already. Overall, the mileage requirements were not sustainable for my body and I think it was the right choice for me to leave the team at the time. While leaving the team was very amicable between the head coach and I, I am signing this petition because I think these mental and physical health issues are important, and I support those women who are speaking out. 

 

Rachel Eisman, Class of 2016

 

I felt the environment on the cross country team was overall somewhat oppressive—instead of feeling supported to be the best that I could be, I felt overly scrutinized and under a lot of pressure to do everything “right” both in and out of practice.

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I felt the environment on the cross country team was overall somewhat oppressive—instead of feeling supported to be the best that I could be, I felt overly scrutinized and under a lot of pressure to do everything “right” both in and out of practice. This was a big part of why I quit the team at the end of my freshman year.

 

Anonymous, Class of 2016

 

Even though I was not personally weight-shamed during my time on the team, I witnessed the decline of women that were, and it made me so sad to watch as those who worked the hardest on their training started to develop a self-destructive mindset that affected them both mentally and physically. These women would be injured constantly with one stress fracture after another, and their times were getting slower instead of faster; this only made them more obsessive about working out.

The demands being presented are reasonable, and I would like to emphasize how important it is that the approach to nutrition and well-being is supportive rather than shameful.

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The women’s cross country team had a lot of potential when I started running in 2012, and I met some of my best friends on the team. The coaching style bothered many of us during our first few months and nearly all of my class year had quit by the end of our freshman year. Even though I was not personally weight-shamed during my time on the team, I witnessed the decline of women that were, and it made me so sad to watch as those who worked the hardest on their training started to develop a self-destructive mindset that affected them both mentally and physically. These women would be injured constantly with one stress fracture after another, and their times were getting slower instead of faster; this only made them more obsessive about working out.

When I graduated from Wesleyan in 2016, the women on the team seemed to be as happy as clams and I thought that the coaching had changed for the better. It is clear to me now that I was wrong. It saddens me deeply to find out that there have been such toxic situations regarding body image and weight and that these problems continue to persist. It is also sad to think about how a team that could have been a supportive and uplifting environment in a challenging academic setting became a destructive and demoralizing one, and even more so, that this continues to happen to others. The demands being presented are reasonable, and I would like to emphasize how important it is that the approach to nutrition and well-being is supportive rather than shameful. Women are always under a lens, and the skills that are learned on a team should be constructive and taught to be carried out into the real world rather than taking away painful experiences and memories. I am in support of these demands and I wish the best to the present and future Wesleyan Women’s Cross Country team. 

 

Sylwia Lipior, Class of 2018

 

I want all athletes to view their team as a safe space that promotes personal and communal growth, and I believe this petition is a step towards achieving that.

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Although my experience on the Wesleyan Cross Country/Track team was overall a very positive one, I am disturbed by the large number of my friends and teammates who had negative and hurtful experiences. I want all athletes to view their team as a safe space that promotes personal and communal growth, and I believe this petition is a step towards achieving that.

 

Update 4/7/2020: This article was originally published with the headline “Part 2: 25 Testimonials from Women’s Cross Country Alumnae”. There are actually only 24 testimonials, including Yuki’s from part one. The article has been updated accordingly.

This series was produced by sdz with the help of  fern,  melimaury,  gabs,  and  hen. Special thanks to Yuki Hebner for all of her hard work and coordination, and for bringing this story to Wesleying.

If you have comments or questions, feel free to email us at staff[at]wesleying[dot]org or tweet at us @Wesleying.