While women's cross country runner Kristen Findley may be used to following a path as a runner, her life motto is far from pedestrian. Approaching everything from athletics, academics, family and travel as an opportunity for growth, it came as no surprise that Kristen decided to take on the daunting task of climbing the Matterhorn this past summer.
Bordering Italy and Switzerland, the Matterhorn towers 15,000 feet above sea level. If heights alone aren't enough to scare off potential climbers, the Matterhorn may be the most dangerous peak in the Alps--500 people have died attempting the feat. Because of these factors, climbing this towering beast requires four days of rigorous training with professional guides. Couple all this with a brutal climate and the accompanying mental pressures, and this endeavor is the last thing many people would consider taking on. But for Kristen, climbing the Matterhorn was just another chance to take on a challenge.
Born in Boise, Idaho, Kristen underwent a major change at age 10 when she moved to Saudi Arabia--a nation where women can't drive and people cannot consume alcohol or eat pork. From the land of the free to an intensely religious culture, Kristen was thrust into a vastly different lifestyle. Yet, this extreme change did not bother her. Instead, she embraced Saudi Arabia, playing on travel soccer teams and interacting with locals. Through this experience at such a young age she developed a confident swagger that helps her face daily obstacles today.
"It was the move to Saudi Arabia where I underwent a sort of paradigm shift," Kristen said. "I realized there's so much more out there, traveling to so many places and seeing different ways of life."
It was this shift in perspective that developed and instilled the go-getter attitude for which Kristen is known. She credits this growth with setting the stage for her to climb the Matterhorn 10 years later.
As a runner, Kristen had opportunities to be a star at a smaller Division III school. Yet, she wanted to run at a Southeastern Conference school, even if that meant not being the top runner on the team.
"At the engineering school I worked at this summer, I could have had two or three records," Kristen said. "But it's pretty rewarding being able to compete with the best, especially in the SEC, such a tough conference. I'd rather be in the middle of my team at a really good school than at the front of my team where I'm always winning. I really like my spot on the team because I always have something to work toward."
Kristen puts this sentiment of having something to work toward to practice by setting a personal goal to always travel to road meets. Since road meets often take only the top eight runners, not everyone can attend. Nevertheless, Kristen earned a spot on the travel roster when the Commodores ran at the Roy Griak Invitational in Minneapolis.
In the classroom, Kristen is a biomedical engineer, one of the most academically demanding majors at Vanderbilt. Not only does she study a dense field on top of being an athlete, Kristen has plans to earn a Ph.D. abroad, as she wants to research restoring vision to the blind.
Kristen's mother is Mexican, and Kristen is fluent in Spanish, which fuels her interest in conducting her post-graduate studies abroad. After living in Saudi Arabia and traveling to 30 countries, there is no doubt in her mind she can earn her Ph.D. internationally in Spanish.
Since climbing the Matterhorn--an experience Kristen called the "most physically and mentally draining" of her life, it became clear that her challenges in school, on the track and in the rest of her life were no more than opportunities for success. Kristen is as eager as ever to continue to pursue her goals of travel and international study.
She also is more confident than ever about the cross-country season, both individually and as a team, and believes Vanderbilt has a chance to win the SEC Championship.
Whether or not the Commodores conquer the SEC this fall, Kristen has decided to constantly strive to reach new heights. The determination that has already taken her to one of the highest peaks in Europe continues to fuel her goals closer to sea level.
When asked about her motivation to push herself to the limits, Kristen shrugs and states simply, "I like a challenge."