Saturday, May 18th, 2024
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Success on the Track & in the Classroom

Emily Bland beats the sun out of bed most mornings. Her day, fittingly, is structured as a race against time. Rain or shine, Bland is outside running six to eight miles to start her day, beginning around 6:30 a.m. From there, she lifts, tutors, goes to class, student-teaches, builds a lesson plan and studies.

By Chris Capella ’21M

EMILY BLAND beats the sun out of bed most mornings. Her day, fittingly, is structured as a race against time. Rain or shine, Bland is outside running six to eight miles to start her day, beginning around 6:30 a.m. From there, she lifts, tutors, goes to class, student-teaches, builds a lesson plan and studies.

“A typical day for me is stressful, hectic chaos,” said Bland, a senior on the cross country team at Millersville University, “but I could not see myself doing anything else.”

This wasn’t always the life Bland saw for herself. She was a high school field hockey player. But once at Millersville, Bland took to distance running. What started as a way to keep off the dreaded “freshman 15” turned into an opportunity.

While running around the indoor track, Bland was approached by a gym teacher who asked her about her running habits. Eventually, she was introduced to Andy Young, head coach for the Millersville cross country and track and field programs. She decided to give it a try, with one stipulation—she would have to miss her junior track and field season because she wanted to study abroad in Spain.

Young agreed. So began Bland’s collegiate athletic career.

“The first day of practice I was told I was going to run three miles with an assistant coach,” said Bland. “I was like, three miles? I thought I was going to die. I was going around a 10-minute pace up and down those Lancaster County hills. They are no joke.”

“She wasn’t very fit coming in,” added Young, laughing. “We probably spent about a year getting her to understand what racing and training are.”

But anyone who has come across Bland knew those 10-minute miles wouldn’t last.

Her background wouldn’t allow it.

“I’m an extremely competitive person. I get that from my dad,” said Bland, who notes that she gets her academic aspirations from her mom. “I’m competitive with myself. I’m a perfectionist.”

Her days were spent training and improving, soaking up as much information as she could through coaches and teammates. Bland was aiming to be a perfectionist in a sport where perfectionists and the self-determined succeed most.

“She’s a coach’s dream,” said Young. “She’s a sponge with training. She’s a worker. All coaches want that kind of athlete.”

Those same traits helped her excel in the classroom. Bland is a Spanish education major with aspirations of becoming a teacher. She was recently recognized by Millersville’s Imagine the Possible campaign due to her success as a student-athlete, study abroad trip and excellence in the classroom. Bland picked up Spanish because it was the one subject in which she struggled.

“I want to teach kids that you can communicate in more than one way,” she said. “I want to teach kids that it’s so hard, but so fulfilling once you get it.”

Bland spent six months this year in Burgos, Spain, a city about two hours north of Madrid. Her study abroad trip included two classes a day, four days a week. Bland even managed to participate in a half-marathon while abroad.

“It was the best experience of my life so far,” she said. “You learn a type of independence that a lot of people could never understand.”

Bland, who roomed with a friend also studying abroad, made a special connection while in Spain. Her landlord, affectionately nicknamed “abuela” for grandma, paid for their Wi-Fi while they taught her two grandsons, ages 5 and 3, English.

“Those little boys became our family,” Bland said. “We still exchange letters and cards.”

Upon returning, Bland picked up a student-teaching job at McCaskey East High School every week from Wednesday through Friday. She teaches two Spanish IV classes and four Spanish II classes.

“You have to turn on the creative mode in your brain and almost manipulate this language into something they know and understand,” she said. “It made me creative, and I never considered myself a creative person.”

After graduating, Bland wants to teach full-time but is still undecided about teaching English in Spain or Spanish in the United States.

“I would imagine school districts, a lot of them are going to want her as soon as they meet her and understand what she’s all about,” Young said. “She’s got a little bit of an edge to her, but I think that’ll make her an amazing teacher.”

She has had an unexpectedly productive career for someone who never ran cross country before college.

“The week before the regional meet at the PSAC Championships, she ran probably the worst race of her life,” said Young. “She trained so hard that summer, really improved and it just wasn’t her day. I remember she was so angry and didn’t want to talk to anyone. It was like fuel for her. It was like, ‘That wasn’t good enough, I know I’m better than that.’ That’s who she is at her core. She’s driven to get better.”

Bland now transitions to track and field. This spring, she hopes to place at the PSAC Championship in the 10K race, something no Millersville athlete has done with Young as coach.

“It’s surreal. I never thought I would be a runner,” Bland said. “Beyond that, it’s finding this love and passion I never knew I had. I’m so proud to wear the MU logo.”

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