Sept. 21, 2012
BIRMINGHAM, Ala.--The 2012 cross country season has only just begun, and UAB senior Sarah Hudak has come out of the gate with some of the most impressive performances in program history.
After competing for Loughborough University, a two-hour drive from her hometown in Manchester, England, Hudak arrived in the United States and joined the UAB cross country team for the 2011 season. Hudak ran in all six races, earned a pair of top-10 finishes, and finished in the top-25 at the Conference USA Championship to start her Blazer career.
"Moving to another country is probably one of the biggest, scariest things I've ever done, but it was a really good decision and I'm so glad I did it," Hudak said. "It's so different from back home. The whole university is set up so differently, there's so much more focus on sports and a lot more funding. It's crazy, but I really enjoy it here."
In 2012, the graduate student, who is pursuing a degree in clinical nutrition, kicked things off by crossing the finish line first of the 41-person field at the Crimson Tide Cross Country Kickoff 3K with a time of 10:47.02, and has been racking up the accolades ever since.
"I just wanted to do better than last year, and I knew I was more fit, but I didn't know what I was actually going to accomplish," Hudak said. "I think before I came here, my training wasn't very consistent, but after a year of being here and training on a set schedule, it's been really good. I like having the team around me, it helps me stay motivated."
Hudak credits her mother Susan Hudak, who was also a runner, for sparking her interest in running.
"I think it was my mother who got me interested in running because she used to run," Hudak said. "When I was younger, I played just about every sport, but I just loved running, so I carried on with it as I got older. I just love the speed and beating people."
Now, Hudak finds motivation on this side of the world in the form of newcomer Elinor Kirk, who hails from Wales, U.K. Hudak and Kirk took the top two spots at the 2012 Azalea City Cross Country Classic 6K on Sept. 15 with times of 21.53.5 and 21:58.92, respectively.
"Eli and I train together a lot and we push each other all the time," Hudak said. "It's great to have a training partner who is at the same level as you are. Being able to run with her in the last race and finishing in first and second place was just the best. Before this season, I'd never won a cross country race, and now I've got three. It's amazing."
This type of camaraderie is what Hudak enjoys most about UAB.
"I like all the sports teams, being a student-athlete here, the closeness we have with all the other teams," Hudak said. "I love being part of the track and cross country team because of all the team spirit we have. We all motivate each other and work hard to be successful."
Along with winning, Hudak has set a personal best in both the 4K and 6K, was named UAB Student Athlete of the Week, and also picked up a pair of Conference-USA Athlete of the Week honors. The senior's 4K time of 14:20.9 is UAB's third fastest time in the last decade.
UAB's competition will only grow as the season progresses, and the team will be taking its first trip out of state for Loyola University of Chicago's Sean Earl Loyola Lakefront Invitational on Sept. 29.
"Our races keep getting bigger and bigger, and I'm really excited to travel," Hudak said. "Chicago is really cool, and the race is right by Lake Michigan, so it'll be a really great trip with a lot more competition. I think this race is going to have five hundred people in it. We're really going to have to focus on what we can do on such a big stage."
Afterward, the Blazers will have one more race before the 2012 Conference USA Cross Country Championship on Oct. 29 in Hattiesburg, Miss. Last year, UAB finished in sixth place amongst its conference foes, and this year, the goal is to have an improved result.
"Conference USA is the big meet we're aiming for," Hudak said. "I think we can definitely do better this year. We've got a great team and we just need to get closer as a group. I'll aim for top-five as an improvement on my finish from last year, and we'll see what happens."
While the conference championship is the team's goal, individually, Hudak has her eye on performing on the national stage. The Blazers' trip to Tallahassee, Fla., for the NCAA South Regional on Nov. 9 will be the distance runner's biggest test.
"Tony thinks that Eli and I can qualify individually, so that's a good aim for the season," Hudak said. "We really want to go out there and qualify for nationals."
Louisville hosts the 2012 NCAA Championships in Louisville, Ky., on Saturday, Nov. 17.