By Benjamin Wideman / SLC Sports Information Director
MANITOWOC, Wis. —Ariel Galoff has been off and running ever since stepping foot on the Silver Lake College campus.
Fueled by a relentless desire to excel, the freshman from Brillion has led the SLC women's cross country team in all six meets so far this season.
"I think I'm doing pretty decent," she said, understating her solid contributions to the team.
Now, Ariel and her teammates are setting their sights on qualifying for the NAIA National Championship meet. The top finishers at the NAIA Association of Independent Institutions Conference Championship on Saturday in Bettendorf, Iowa, earn a spot at nationals, which will be held Nov. 18 in Vancouver, Wash.
"Ariel has a very bright future ahead of her, and I believe she has the potential to score well in our conference meet and even make it to nationals," said SLC cross country coach Benjamin Reed, a former student-athlete who ran track at the University of Michigan.
Ariel, a nursing major, is peaking at the right time, fresh off her fastest finish of the season. She placed 16th overall at the Wisconsin Private College Championships on Oct. 14 in Watertown. She completed the course in a 6K personal-best time of 25 minutes, 59.9 seconds, which earned her a medal.
Despite her immediate impact as the fastest freshman in the history of the Silver Lake College women's cross country program, Ariel isn't stressing out about this weekend's conference meet. Quite the opposite, in fact.
"I like running, because to me it's relaxing," she said. "If I'm ever upset about something, I just go out and run and it makes me feel better. And it helps keep me in shape. It's something fun to do and keeps me busy. And what's nice being part of the team here is seeing everyone doing well and getting better each race. That's great to be a part of."
Ariel, who was born and raised in Brillion, first took up cross country as a sixth-grader. But she switched her focus to volleyball in grades seven through nine before lacing up her running shoes again as a sophomore and sticking with it through high school.
After being an average runner her sophomore year, Ariel quickly developed into Brillion High School's fastest female runner during her junior and senior years, thanks in large part to a dedicated training regimen.
In high school, races are 5Ks. Her fastest time as a sophomore was 23 minutes, 6 seconds. Her high school personal-best time dropped to 21 minutes, 15 seconds as a junior, and then 20 minutes, 36 seconds as a senior. Her final year, she won meets at Valders and Luxemburg-Casco.
Now at the college level, Ariel continues to run past competitors who sometimes are three years older than her.
"There's a lot of competition in the meets," she said. "It's actually more intense than I expected at first.
"Part of the challenge for me is that we run a 6K at college. I never ran a 6K before, so part of improving is just figuring out where I was at. I think I finally learned how to pace myself for this distance at the West Allis meet (the fourth race of the season, on Sept. 30)."
Once a race begins, Ariel selects a girl to stick with. If that runner slows down, she picks a different, faster girl up ahead. "I'm always trying to stay with someone who's in front of me," she said. "I run as hard as I can each race."
Added Coach Reed: "She is extremely motivated and driven, giving 110 percent, be it at practice or a meet. She is an outstanding athlete to coach."
When she isn't running, Ariel is focusing on academics.
She's excited about pursuing a degree in nursing, with the intent of one day becoming a trauma nurse and perhaps a nurse practitioner.
"I really like to help people," said Ariel, a fan of the popular TV series "Grey's Anatomy." "That feeling you get after helping someone, I really enjoy that. I like seeing people smile. … Working in an emergency room will be exciting and give me opportunities to help more people."
Ariel is accustomed to hard work, having spent many hours over the years helping at River's Bend Dairy, located a few miles outside Brillion. She has milked cows, cleaned the barn and performed a wide array of chores.
"I like being around animals," she said. "I was looking for a job on a farm since my freshman year of high school, so I'm glad that opportunity came around. It's a lot of fun. Sometime down the road I'd like to have a small farm."
But first things first — she and her SLC teammates will be striving to end the cross country season on a high note this weekend.