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The grass is still damp with morning dew, but in the air there's a strong hint of the heat to come.

Jennie Jamicich dons her lightweight apparel and running shoes. Heat or not, early hour or not, the slender, dark-haired IUPUI senior heads off for her daily workout, a jaunt of 10-or-so miles.

Ah, the life of a cross country runner. They call it “building a base,” a foundation for the competitive miles they will run when the season begins in the fall.

“Who in their right mind wants to get up at 6 a.m. in the middle of summer?” asks the four-year IUPUI cross country letter winner with a chuckle. “We're a different breed of people. Let's face it: you've got to be a little odd to want to go out and run 10 miles.”

But off Jamicich goes, her iPod establishing a beat that might feature Taylor Swift, or Green Day, or other genres from “country to rap to oldies to Disney music.”

“I've got to have my music,” smiles Jamicich.

Injury changes routine

From middle school until last summer, such runs were a daily routine for Jamicich, a psychology major in the Purdue School of Science at IUPUI and a core member of the Jaguars women's cross country squad.

But an injury interrupted that flow this past summer. Suddenly, Jamicich couldn't train as she had since discovering the sport entering her freshman year at Munster High School in northwest Indiana, better known as the Region.

Instead, her routine involved regular visits to physical therapy (PT), as she tried to get ready for her final varsity season. It wasn't her first brush with PT. “I broke my toe in the sectional my senior year at Munster, and naturally, I was depressed,” says Jamicich. “But the therapy helped me through it.”

Her IUPUI head coach, Joni Sanders, was impressed with Jamicich's determination to get back in action. “Jennie was determined to train harder than ever, and when the leg problems came up, it was especially difficult,” Sanders says. “But she has such a strong work ethic that I wasn't surprised she made it back. Heck, I had to slow her down sometimes, which I know didn't make her happy!”

Jamicich turned her therapy sessions into learning opportunities while she recovered. “I found myself not only getting therapy, but watching what was going on around me,” she says. “I realized I wanted to help other people the way I'd been helped.”

She noticed how the therapists worked and interacted with patients.

“A lot of people need help, and it's up to the therapist to work with each person to figure out how best to get them back on track,” says Jamicich. That collaboration is one of the field's bigger attractions for the Munster High School graduate.

Jamicich, the lone senior on this year's cross country team, has been accepted into IUPUI's graduate school program for physical therapy, which thrills her “because it's a great program, tough to get into,” she says, but also because “I love it here. I have so many friends, I love how I can walk around downtown, and even though there are a lot of students at IUPUI, it feels like a small, close-knit campus.”

Academics first

The path from northern Indiana to IUPUI was pretty simple for Jamicich.

“My high school coach's daughter Amanda (Shike) ran here,” she says. “Through her, I met the coach, saw the campus and fell in love with it. And I knew Amanda would be here, so it was a great place for me.”

Jamicich quickly fit into life on campus. She was the team's most valuable runner as a freshman, and began compiling an impressive list of academic honors, too. She's earned Summit League all-conference academic recognition in each of her first three years and IUPUI's Academic Advisor's List all six semesters on campus. Twice, she's earned the prestigious Summit League Commissioner's List of Academic Excellence honor.

“Academics have always been the most important thing to me and to my parents,” says Jamicich, the second of four children. She credits much of her classroom achievements to the organizational skills she inherited from her father John, an electrical engineer with Commonwealth Edison. Her mother Kim is a court reporter.

“I think I'm the most organized person ever,” says Jamicich, admitting that friends and teammates tease her about her discipline. “They all say 'we need to study with you — all your notes are in order!' But if you're a college athlete, you have to manage your time well.”

She also admits that she is “really, REALLY competitive. I was in every sport” growing up, and for a long time wanted to play basketball. But fate intervened.

“I first ran track my eighth grade year just to get into shape for basketball,” she says. “Then my junior high coach told me I should run cross country to get in even better shape, so I did.”

Her first brush with the sport was underwhelming, Jamicich says.

“I begged my dad to let me quit after day two,” she laughs. “I was not happy about running that much!” But her father pushed her back into action and before long, Jamicich found herself running well; shortly after that, she began to realize that “I could go further running than I could in basketball.”

Cross country “fits my personality,” she says. “When I'm training for something — a race or a season — I have a goal, and that's what motivates me!”

Sanders understands that motivation. Jamicich “reminds me of myself — we're both into studying the sport, the statistics and the strategy of cross country,” the coach says.

“She really stepped up as my right-hand girl last year when I took over the program,” Sanders adds. “Jennie spent time with our recruits, telling them about our program, but even more about the campus and all the opportunities students have here. She has been a great ambassador for both our team and IUPUI.”