For many athletes at the Division III level, graduation is the end of their competitive careers. Senior year is often seen as the last opportunity to achieve one’s athletic dreams. Yet, for some athletes, the love for their sport is simply too great to let go.
Five-time All-American Jessica Wilson ’17 has not only continued to run after graduation, she has done so exceptionally well, setting personal records, topping Division I athletes, and finishing mere seconds behind professional runners. She has done this all while living and working full-time in Boston.
After graduating from Bates, Wilson moved to Cambridge, MA, where she began working as a research assistant for Boston University (BU). Here, she also joined a running group in Boston called the Heartbreakers and has continued training with the intention of racing a marathon in the spring with fellow Batesie Kallie Nixon ’14.
“Transitioning into what we term ‘the real world’ can be kind of scary and overwhelming at times,” Wilson says. “For me, running has always been my anchor, the sort of thing that I can always fall back on if other areas of my life aren’t going so well. I realized that running and competing with a group of people, having that camaraderie and support, is something that I really desire in my life.”
During her time at Bates, Wilson made a career out of breaking records. She currently holds the indoor 3000m (9:43.31) and the outdoor 1500m (4:27.33) and 5000m (16:57.09) records. Now after graduation, she continues to shatter her own personal records.
At BU’s Terrier Classic in January, she ran the 5000m in 16:19.45 on a banked track, placing second in a field of 48. Two weeks later, she raced the 3000m in BU’s Valentine Invitational and once more earned a huge personal record, running 9:27.52 and placing 13 out of 141 runners.
“It certainly isn’t always easy,” she says. “I find myself more tired than I did in college. Working forty hours a week and then trying to run before or after work can be quite a lot, but I’m happy with the decision that I made to continue running.”
Wilson also realizes that there may come a time in the future when she no longer feels this way. If she comes to that point, she says, she will reevaluate what she is doing. “To find that motivation, it can be hard at times, but it’s also something that I know makes me happy, and I know that I really care about it,” she says. “So for the time being, I’m continuing to run and compete. We’ll see if that continues for another two months [or] for another two years. It’s hard to say, but the nice thing about running is that, when you graduate, you can pick and choose what you want to do.”
Unsurprisingly, Wilson’s accomplishments after graduating from Bates are not just limited to the track. As a research assistant for the BU Department of Environmental Health, Wilson is helping to research the influence of metal contaminants on women’s health in different regions of Massachusetts. Additionally, she helps rephrase scientific information about research within the lab to make it more understandable for the public, community, and policy-makers.
“I really enjoy contributing to something that’s larger than myself and contributing towards something that hopefully will ultimately help women’s health in Massachusetts,” she says. “I find that sometimes my bosses tell me to slow down, because I do work too quickly, and the reason why is because the pace at Bates is just so rigorous and so demanding that you get used to that, which is absolutely invaluable.”
Her advice for current Bates students? “Take advantage of every opportunity you have at Bates,” she says. “You don’t realize until you leave that the ‘real world’ doesn’t have forty eight types of cereal coming out of a container in a wall. I haven’t found any of those yet.”
Wilson is a shining example of how one may continue to do the sport that they love post-Bates. It has not always been easy for her, but ask her about running, and she will tell you that she loves what she does. While she may not know what the future holds, for now she is content with running and will continue to do so as long as it makes her happy. Who knows what she may further achieve along the way?