Joseph Westrick has been competing in cross country for quite some time – since the seventh grade, to be precise.
But it wasn’t until much later in his life that Westrick, a senior environmental engineering major at Gannon University, considered taking his sport much more seriously.
Westrick attended Chartiers Valley High School in Pittsburgh before coming to run for Gannon.
Both personal growth and growth in his chosen sport are two things Westrick said he has experienced while running for the Knights.
“My fitness has improved substantially each season I have run,” he said, “and my times have likewise improved year after year.
“Besides the sport itself, I have met many great teammates here that I will be in contact with for the rest of my life.”
Westrick noted that Gannon cross country coach John Carrig and assistant coach Rosie Williamson have played very important roles in his running career here.
However, he said that former teammate Garrett Sutton also had a big impact on him in his collegiate sports career.
“His unwavering passion for the sport and knowledge of training methods helped me to grow into a successful athlete,” Westrick said of Sutton.
“His sense of humor also made long runs, workouts and races enjoyable even on the roughest of days.”
The team’s Atlantic Regional meet last season was one of Westrick’s most memorable moments. The Knights placed eighth of 20 teams — the best regional finish in Gannon history – and Westrick finished fifth to earn all-regional honors for the second time.
The fifth-place finish was the highest finish ever in a regional meet by a Gannon runner. As a result, Westrick became the first Gannon runner ever to qualify for the Division II national championships, which were held at Schenley Park in Pittsburgh.
There, he placed 81st in a field of 265 runners with a time of 34 minutes, 20.8 seconds in the 10,000-meter event.
The Knights had been battling many injuries all season long prior to the Atlantic Regional meet, so the finish was a bit of a surprise for him, but he said it was nice to feel rewarded for all the hard work the group had put in.
Carrig, who has coached Westrick all four years at Gannon, said the senior’s accomplishments speak for themselves. “But I believe his greatest contribution to the team is his work ethic,” Carrig said.
“He is not afraid to go out of his comfort zone and is willing to add the extra mile or two it takes to be a good runner. He is also a great team leader.”
Because Gannon has no competitive track and field team, cross country runners are at a bit of a disadvantage when it comes to training year-round.
Westrick said that to stay in a good fitness standing, it requires a lot of rougher runs and workouts in snowstorms, high winds and rain. Not the most ideal training conditions, but something that has to be done for him to achieve his goals.
This season the team welcomed what potentially was the best freshman class in team history, and Westrick is looking forward to the excitement the group will generate. The hope is that the newcomers will boost the team’s top two runners – Westrick and junior Ryan Garich.
“With this team, I believe that a record-high finish for the school at conference and regionals is possible,” Westrick said.
This will also be Westrick’s final season with the team. He said that since running has been part of his life from such a young age, he is a bit uncomfortable knowing that this is the last time he will be lacing up his spikes with his teammates.
Westrick said that that no matter what, he plans on making this season the best one yet. He also wants to make sure that the returning team members and especially the freshmen have the experience this year that keeps the team moving upward after he leaves. He hopes to make it back to this year’s national championships, which are being held in Sacramento, as well as win the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference championship race this year after finishing fourth a year ago. That’s a goal he has held on to for several years.
Away from running, Westrick is a member of both the fishing and environmental clubs at Gannon. After graduation, he hopes to work as an environmental engineer, specifically in the field of environmental health or even oil and gas.
Although he tends to shy away from long- distance races, he said that there could possibly be one exception.
“I would like to qualify for the Boston Marathon and run alongside past members of the Gannon cross country team,” he said. “I also see myself competing in the occasional road race.”
Westrick and his teammates will be back in action this weekend at the Gannon-Mercyhurst Invitational, set for Saturday at Pleasant Ridge Park in Fairview.
The women’s 5K race is set to go off at 11 a.m. and the men’s 8K race will start at 11:45 a.m.
Among the teams scheduled to compete along with co-hosts Gannon and Mercyhurst are Seton Hill, West Virginia Wesleyan, Salem, Westminster and La Roche.
Following this weekend’s event, the Knights will be competing at the Bloomsburg Invitational Oct. 12 and the PSAC Championships Oct. 25 in Bloomsburg. This year’s regional meet is set for Nov. 9 in Lock Haven.