Sept. 17, 2014
By Brad Muller | More Features
Stephanie Berger started her collegiate cross country career at the back of the pack as a walk-on. Now the junior from West Salem, Ohio, is out in front with just about everything she does. After a successful semester abroad in Turkey last spring, Berger hit the ground running this fall by picking up her first collegiate win in South Carolina's season opener on Aug. 30 as the Gamecocks hosted the Carolina Invitational.
"It was definitely exciting," Berger said. "Coming in and being able to advance after a couple of years and getting to this level is rewarding. I'm hoping to further that the rest of the season."
Berger's winning time of 19:00.65 was not even close to the fastest she has run a 5K event. In fact, her best time is 18:03, and she is working hard to get into the "17s" this year. Not bad for a student-athlete who did not begin running cross country until her junior year of high school after being persuaded by friends.
"I laughed at them and said I would never run three miles," Berger recalled. "Now I really like the dynamics of distance running. I think a lot of people don't realize the team dynamics of the sport. Everyone has their own strategy, and I like to stay consistent. I have a tendency to try to conserve myself at the beginning so I can go faster at the end, but also knowing the teammates your running with helps you pace each other."
As an international business major, who is also studying supply chain management and economics, Berger knows she will be facing a lot of competition in her professional life after graduation. The McKissick and Capstone Scholar studied in Russia for a year after high school before beginning college and is now conversational in that language, and she spent a full semester in Istanbul last spring.
"Istanbul was a great experience. I definitely achieved some specific goals in studying business from a different perspective."
"I'd like to work at a firm where I'm working in the supply chains with companies that work across different borders," Berger said. "Istanbul was a great experience. I definitely achieved some specific goals in studying business from a different perspective and the trends that are going on over there. The biggest thing I learned is that history tends to repeat itself. That can be a good thing and a bad thing, but being able to recognize that is important."
While she gained an education from her time overseas, Berger is eager to learn more.
"I want to go back to Turkey, because I don't think I know all about the true Turkish culture," Berger said. "The environment I was in was sort of a bubble because it was on a campus and everyone spoke English. A lot of the culture I experienced was with Turkish people who were familiar with our culture or Europe's culture. A lot of the people where I studied were more `well-off' (financially) than other people in Turkey."
Berger was also eager to hone her athletic skills and stay in shape for cross country season, so she decided to run her first half marathon while in Turkey. Not only did she finish the 13.1 mile race, but she took third place in the women's division.
"I didn't expect a lot going into it because I wanted to basically run against myself and try to reach a certain benchmark," Berger said. "When I was looking at the results, I realized that only about 150 women finished the race, and about 1,150 men had finished."
Berger was amazed in contrast between the number of male and female runners, but she also understands how cultures in other parts of the world differ.
"Turkey isn't like a lot of other countries in the Middle East," Berger said. "I mean, they've had a female prime minister. But in other regards, the women have stricter cultural norms to abide by. While you do see a lot of female runners, from my perspective it's not like what we see here in the United States where a race might be 50 percent male and 50 percent female."
Placing third in the race would have allowed her to take home 2,000 Turkish lira, which is approximately $1,000, but she could not accept the prize due to NCAA rules.
Berger looks to continue to break personal records to help the Gamecocks achieve greatness as a team. When she is able to travel abroad again, Berger is already thinking about countries on her bucket list to visit next, and perhaps get some exercise as well.
"I want to go to Georgia," Berger said of Turkey's northern neighbor. "I've heard they've got really good food and great dancers."
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