Tag Archives: cross country

Update: Women’s Cross Country Speaks Out (Made its way to the New York Times)

Five months have passed since we published a three-part article alongside alumnae from the women’s cross country team exposing the toxic culture they experienced during their time with Head Coach John Crooke. Today the story was brought to new attention when it was published in the New York Times.

Immediately after our article was published on March 2nd an investigation was opened and Crooke was placed on leave. Michael Roth ’78 sent out the following all-campus email:

Women’s Cross Country Alumnae Speak Out on Culture of Disordered Eating, Injuries

This series was produced by sdz with the help of  fern,  melimaury,  gabs,  and  hen.
The 25 testimonials can be read here. The timeline of contact between the team and the Athletic Department can be found here.


The following is an open letter from Yuki Christina Hebner ‘17 to the Wesleyan community that speaks to a culture of body shaming, disordered eating, and high attrition rates on the Wesleyan women’s cross country team. Yuki tells her own story and introduces the stories of 25 other women’s cross country alumnae.

In the testimonials, Head Coach John Crooke is alleged to have pressured runners to lose significant amounts of weight with little guidance and no nutritional training, leading to multiple cases of disordered eating and injury. The effects of Coach Crooke’s directives, delivered in meetings which the team colloquially called “fat talks”, have been long-lasting; some of these alumnae are almost 7 years out of college and yet still struggle with disordered eating and injuries from their time on the team.

Yuki’s letter is followed by a petition, signed by 36 alumni. Notably, the petition is not asking for the removal of Coach Crooke, but rather for the Department to advocate for its racing athletes by better understanding the risk factors associated with endurance sports and holding coaches to a higher standard of accountability, among other demands.

The issues presented in this series are two-fold. On one hand, it was Coach Crooke’s actions that so adversely affected each of these alumni. He forced runners to lose weight, played favorites, and fostered a dangerous culture of body shaming and disordered eating. But, Coaches come and go. The issues presented here will not be resolved simply by removing Coach Crooke, or by adding a few more assistant coaches. The systemic issues of body shaming and lack of accountability of coaches that face distance runners simply will not change from the efforts of one person, or scapegoating one person to protect an inadequate system. It will take a cocktail of reforms, as laid out in the petition below, to bring about any sort of meaningful change.

This is not the first time that these athletes have tried to voice their stories. They wrote about their experiences in coaching evaluations, spoke about them in meetings with their coaches, and even brought them to the attention of the athletic directors. And yet, their concerns were never taken seriously. The timeline indicates clearly that the Department had been made aware of the cross country team’s concerns since at least 2013, and yet there is reason to suspect that things have not yet changed as much as they should have. If this were not true, these alumnae would not be speaking up today. (A statement from the Athletic Department follows the petition.)

It took a great deal of courage for each of the alumnae to speak out about her experience on the team. As a community, it is our responsibility to listen now, because it doesn’t seem like anyone was listening then.

Read Yuki’s letter after the jump, and then be sure to read the testimonials. The story is incomplete without them.

Liz Wheatley ’09 Wins Wesleyan Invitational

Liz Wheatley ’09 (right) came in first place at the Wesleyan Invitational last weekend, finishing the 5-kilometer course in 19 minutes, 28 seconds and bringing the team to a third-place finish. She was also named the NESCAC Performer of the Week, according to the Boston Globe:

“She was a kid who came here never having run cross-country in high school,” said Wesleyan coach John Crooke, explaining the uneventful first two years of Wheatley’s career. “Then she had some physical ailments her junior year. But she had a breakout spring, running the 1,500 and 3,000, so I expected good things this fall.”

The physical ailments: tendinitis of the knee and Lyme disease all but wiped out her cross-country season last fall.

“I ran just a few races,” Wheatley said, “and my times were pretty horrible. My knee was sore and I was tired all the time and my energy was sapped. Then I got tested and the diagnosis was that I had Lyme disease. So I stopped running and rested with the expectation that I would be OK to run in the spring. Right now, I’m probably in the best shape physically I’ve been in a long time.”

And that’s just fine with Crooke, who feels, with a healthy Wheatley and junior Ravenna Neville, his cocaptains, he now has the one-two punch to lift Wesleyan into the hunt for conference and regional titles.

Congratulations Liz, and the rest of the team.

Boston Globe: Wheatley races to first in Wesleyan Invitational

Run, Forrest, run!

Amby Burfoot ’68, arguably the greatest runner in Wesleyan cross country/track history, was inducted into the National Distance Running Hall of Fame in Utica on July 12th. Burfoot, who was one of three 2008 inductees, won the Boston Marathon his senior year at Wes–the first collegian ever to win the Marathon and the first American to win since 1957. In all, he finished the Beantown race 15 times.

Burfoot is currently executive editor of Runner’s World magazine; his most recent racing action came last Thanksgiving, when he finished first in the men’s 60-69 age group (289th overall) at the Manchester (Conn.) Road Race, an event he has won nine times.

In light of the recent running-related alumni news, methinks it’s time for some Pink Floyd…(lyrics begin around 2:27, for the uninformed).

Link: National Distance Running Hall of Fame Announces the Induction Class of 2008
Link: Manchester Road Race Results – 2007