A Smile Around the Track

Mark Widerschein
Hanlon congratulates D’Agostino following the 2014 Indoor Heptagonal Championships.
Mark Widerschein

Running up to meet me by the track, Abbey D’Agostino ’14 flashed her signature smile. It was hard to guess that she was working ahead on a final paper, preparing to miss most of finals and reading period to run for the Big Green at the NCAA Regionals in Jacksonville, Florida. On an overcast spring day in Hanover, concrete bleachers towered above a stretch of track on which D’Agostino improved from an unheralded recruit to a national champion.

Seven national titles. Sixteen Ivy League titles. A 12-time All-American. The most decorated student-athlete in Ivy League history. D’Agostino broke barriers not only for Dartmouth, setting new records for every distance event from the 1,000- to the 10,000-meter run, but for runners everywhere. She redefined expectations for Ivy League athletes, becoming the first to win an NCAA Division I cross country championship and the first female Ivy Leaguer to appear on the Bowerman watch list, advancing to be recognized as a semifinalist for one of the most prestigious awards in collegiate track and field.

Within the Ivy League, D’Agostino became the first woman to capture Ivy League Championship victories in the 3k, 5k and 10k, completing in one weekend what no other female athlete had been able to accomplish in a career. On the national stage, D’Agostino became the first American woman to win the 3k and 5k at the indoor national championships. She defended her titles this winter, becoming the first to win the events twice in a career. And while many of her classmates relaxed over sophomore summer, she finished only .19 seconds off a free trip to London with the U.S. Olympic team as an athlete in the 5k.

When I reached out to D’Agostino for this interview, I was worried I would be asking for too much of her time. I’d been covering the team all spring, and knew the time crunch she would be under during finals. But D’Agostino agreed to meet me, and even though she knew she was the focus of my profile, as we walked the track she didn’t reference any of her accolades. She’s known among her teammates for her unassuming nature -— teammate Arianna Vailas ’14 describes a favorite memory of visiting a pottery shop in the Upper Valley with D’Agostino, where a surprised employee learned they were athletes and told D’Agostino that she didn’t look like a runner at all. D’Agostino, Vailas says, laughed and picked up her pottery without taking offense.

“The way she’s handled her success is in some ways more amazing than all she’s achieved,” Vailas said.

Arriving at Dartmouth having never run faster than a five-minute mile, it would have been easy for D’Agostino to have been carried away by her collegiate success. But she has always stayed grounded, Vailas said, focusing on teammates instead of any major race before her.

This is an intentional decision -— D’Agostino said that after a disappointing freshman cross country campaign riddled with injury, she took a step back over winter break to analyze where she was. She decided that instead of half-committing herself to running and achieving frustrating results, she needed to make running a lifestyle and embrace both the sport and team.

Since then, D’Agostino has dedicated herself to learning more about the sport, outgoing women’s cross country head coach Mark Coogan said.

“She didn’t used to know what good times were or what a good or bad performance was,” Coogan said. “Now she knows what the best times are in the NCAA, and she’s a part of it.”

Throwing herself into running has taught D’Agostino lessons off the course. As we round the 200-meter mark at the track, she tells me about a realization she had at Nationals during her junior year. Usually calm and collected before her races, D’Agostino couldn’t control her nerves before the 5k. She realized then, she said, that she had internalized the expectations others had for her.

Applying this realization to other aspects of her life, D’Agostino decided to drop her English minor, which she said she had been completing mainly to prove that she could.

“That was a transitional moment for me,” D’Agostino said. “It’s still a work in progress, but I feel really lucky that running has brought me to that point.”

When I asked about her lasting influence on Ivy League athletics, D’Agostino paused for a minute to reflect.  True to character, she mentioned only what the women’s cross country team as a whole had accomplished and how far the program has come.

“The Ivy League hasn’t been given as much recognition on a national stage historically,” she said. “I think there is so much to be said for being forced to learn the balance we have to learn here.”

While D’Agostino focuses on how far the team has come, two teammates focused on how far she has brought the team. Vailas said that D’Agostino has raised the bar for success, not only on the track and cross country team, but for Ivy League athletics. She said that D’Agostino will have a “lasting legacy.”

And  Dana Giordano ’16,   D’Agostino’s training partner, said that D’Agostino’s presence has raised the level of the entire team.

“Whenever we go to a big race, Abbey has been there before,” she said.

As Dartmouth’s most successful athlete closes her collegiate career, she will be missed by the Dartmouth track and field and cross country programs, as well as those who knew her on campus.

“I think they’re going to miss her smile and bubbly personality,” Coogan said. “They aspire to be her while she’s here and when she’s gone she’s shown them how to get to that level.”

As we finished our walk around the track, D’Agostino’s teammates started to arrive for practice. They seemed confused by why D’Agostino hadn’t joined them, and when she caught them staring, she laughed and told me how excited she was to have the possibility of competing with them in the NCAA Championships.

“That would be the best way to end my collegiate career,” D’Agostino said with a smile.

A week later, D’Agostino qualified for nationals alongside Giordano and Megan Krumpoch ’14, who ran the 800. D’Agostino’s race strategy was designed in part to help Giordano qualify.

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