James Snyder surveyed his women’s squad after a particularly strenuous practice one afternoon and dubbed sophomore Gwen Porter as the team’s big sister.
From there, the name stuck.
“It was a really hard workout, and you could tell a lot of the girls were struggling physically and mentally, and it was a tough week,” Porter said. “I just kept going over to everyone and they just happened to open up to me about things and I was walking away with them. It was just normal for me because I was captain of my cross country team in high school and I guess it just seems natural to me to check up on people. So, I guess that’s where it came from.”
While Porter is the honorary big sister of this year’s women’s cross country team, she wasn’t even a part of last year’s group. The Narberth, Pa. native attended Lower Merion High School as a two-sport athlete in cross country and basketball during her first two years. The physical strain of partaking in two sports in consecutive seasons grew to be too much, so Porter dropped basketball and stuck with cross country and track year-round before her junior year.
“I had injury issues,” Porter said. “I would go from running to putting pressure on my knee in basketball. I had hip and knee problems and I needed to choose one sport to focus on and ultimately I chose track and cross country.”
Porter flourished as a leader both by example and voice in her final two years running at Lower Merion but decided to enroll at Temple initially as just a student.
She attended class, experienced dorm life and survived off of a meal plan and a plethora of microwavable goodies like any college freshman. While she enjoyed college life and the social experiences that come with it, Porter said she missed the rush of competing and the camaraderie of a team.
“I found myself feeling bored a lot,” Porter said. “I felt like there was something huge missing from my college experience. I enjoyed it and I had great friends, but at the end of the year it was so obvious that I needed to get back into [running and competing].”
“I would run on my own on the dreaded treadmill,” Porter added. “Every cross country runner hates the treadmill. And after running on my own last year, I thought I’d give it a shot this year, running with the team.”
Aching for a chance to run with Temple’s cross country and track & field programs, Porter reached out to the program’s head coach Eric Mobley and two of the team’s leaders, senior Anna Pavone and junior Jenna Dubrow.
“I talked to my high school coach about joining the team,” Porter said. “He had met Anna Pavone where she works, and he got me into contact with her. I talked to [Dubrow] also through Facebook, and I immediately knew that they were the type of people I could feel comfortable with. They gave me a lot of helpful info and made me feel welcome to join the team.”
“Last year she was a normal student and this year when I got here, coach Mobley had asked if she could be added to our roster,” Snyder, the program’s head distance coach, said. “They corresponded over the summer and I said ‘Sure, let’s give it a shot.’ And she’s met and exceeded all of our expectations so far.”
After walking on to the team this season, Porter has established herself as a Top 5 runner for the Owls and crossed as Temple’s No. 4 finisher at the Paul Short Invitational with a 24 minutes, 22 seconds mark Oct. 5.
“She’s got a unique mindset in that she has such a competitive drive and a fire that came from the basketball court, and it’s something that’s really enticing about her,” Snyder said. “It’s certainly allowed her to transition so quickly and so easily into our team.”
Results aside, Porter said she’s just happy to compete and play a role on a team once again.
“I’ve always loved being on a team,” Porter said. “They were already an established team [this year] and I was worried that I would be the oddball out. But they welcomed me with open arms and I immediately became close with everybody. I love hanging out with them and I’m so happy I joined the team.”
Andrew Parent can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @daParent93.