As Blanca Fernandez crossed the finish line Saturday at the Division I NCAA Championships in Louisville, Kentucky, the senior runner collapsed.
“I lied on the floor like, ‘Oh my gosh. I’m done. Thank God,’” Fernandez said.
Finishing 29th in her final race of the cross country season, Fernandez was exhausted after passing 10 runners in the final 200 meters of the 6K race.
“I’ve never been in a race like this with a group that is so high level,” Fernandez said. “Everyone is as good as you are and as smart as you are. It was OK in other races when you are the best and it’s good, but it wasn’t like that.”
Fernandez ran the race in 20 minutes, 20 seconds, and seven milliseconds.
With her Top 40 finish in the 254-runner field, Fernandez became the women’s cross country program’s first United States Track and Field and Cross Country Coaches Association All-American runner in program history.
“It feels great,” Fernandez said. “It feels like that can’t happen to you. Just one person can make history, and that is me. It feels wonderful.”
Coming into the NCAA Championships, Fernandez won all six of her previous races, including victories at the American Athletic Conference Championships and the NCAA Division I Mid-Atlantic Regional Cross Country Championships.
It was also the second consecutive race Fernandez passed her competitors in the final 200 meters to improve her finish.
At the Mid-Atlantic Regional Nov. 13, the Leon, Spain native pulled ahead of Princeton University’s Emily de la Bruyere to win the race.
“Usually, I didn’t have trouble getting in front, but it was crazy,” Fernandez said. “I was expecting people to relax and calm down, but they never did.”
Fernandez said it took her some time to find her rhythm in the race.
“The hardest part was to fall into my place,” Fernandez said. “The first kilometer was hard, and I was still uncomfortable. And I was trying to find my spot, but it never came. I kept thinking, ‘It’s only the first half of the race, and I’m so tired.’”
The senior finished her only cross country season as an Owl on a high note, making history for Temple and achieving her preseason goal of becoming an All-American.
“I’m kind of sad because it’s the last cross country race,” Fernandez said. “I love cross country, so I’d like it not to end.”
Despite being the first All-American in school history, Fernandez said her proudest accomplishment was receiving the USTFCCCA Mid-Atlantic Regional Athlete of the Year award. She was one of nine Division I women to receive a regional award.
“I was not expecting it because it was after everything, but it was a nice extra,” Fernandez said.
Maura Razanauskas can be reached at email@example.com,
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