Blanca Fernandez couldn’t return to Main Campus without being involved with the cross country team.
“I wanted to be with my teammates and my coach, and luckily the team gave me the opportunity to do so,” Fernandez said.
Fernandez, a former All-American who ran for the Owls in the 2015-16 season, returned to Temple this fall. She will work as a student assistant coach as she pursues her master’s in sport business after taking a year off from school to focus on qualifying for the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.
After missing qualification for the 2016 Games, Fernandez is now focused on qualifying for the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo. Once she graduates in December, Fernandez wants to focus on her Olympic dream.
“I missed it by one second, but it’s OK,” Fernandez said. “Tokyo 2020 will definitely be my chance.”
In her native Spain, Fernandez is a professional track and field runner for the club FC Barcelona. This year, Fernandez has run in multiple European countries.
She set new personal-best times in the 800-meter, 1,500, 3,000 and the mile.
Coaching by pacing runners and communicating with them to help them improve also helps Fernandez’s Olympic training because she learns from the runners and coaches, she said. Three of her women’s cross country teammates from 2015 are still on the team.
During her Temple career, Fernandez set seven school records and won five American Athletic Conference championships with the cross country and track and field teams. Unlike then, Fernandez can practice on her own terms.
“It is fun because I can run with [the team],” Fernandez said. “But if I don’t feel like it, I can stay back with the coaches. The freedom is really nice. It’s been an enriching experience since coming back.”
Fernandez uses training with her former teammates as a way to prepare for the Olympics. If Temple’s runners do one or two sessions during a practice, Fernandez will do two or three.
“For Olympic training, it is about the intensity,” Fernandez said. “Since I am older, I keep working to push my pace to get to the level I want to be at.”
Coach James Snyder credits Fernandez for opening up doors for international runners. Fernandez was the first international athlete to join the cross country program. Now Temple has six runners from Europe on its men’s and women’s teams.
“I told her before she originally got here that she has the chance to start something,” Snyder said. “We haven’t had an international runner here, and it was 30 years since we had an All-American. She changed that over the course of two semesters.”
Snyder uses Fernandez’s presence as a boost for his team. Because of her international experience and talent level as a potential Olympian, Fernandez brings a different dynamic to practice for the Owls.
“I have taken a lot of knowledge from her,” said junior Katie Leisher, who is Fernandez’s roommate. “She is always looking out for everyone else. It is great to have her come back. She is a really good influence to all of us.”
“We get to see that Blanca is not a superwoman,” Snyder said. “She is just like everyone else. But when the gun goes off in a race, she is vicious. I think learning characteristics like that is something our girls can definitely benefit from.”
Fernandez will spend the rest of the semester with the team before graduating. Then she’ll worry more about trying to earn a trip to Tokyo in 2020 to represent Spain.
“My plans are to train for these next three years to make it to Tokyo, then after that we will see what happens,” Fernandez said.