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Heart of a Champion

October 4, 2016  Lynchburg, Va.  RSS
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Terrill Zentmeyer has gone from walk-on to team captain during her four years at Liberty.

Terrill Zentmeyer has gone from walk-on to team captain during her four years at Liberty.

Liberty Track & Field/Cross Country Assistant Coach Rebekah Ricksecker clearly remembers her first meeting with Terrill Zentmeyer.

After meeting future teammates Kat Bouton and Jessie Proehl at an honors picnic, Zentmeyer paid a visit to Ricksecker in her office during the first week of school in August 2013. She informed Ricksecker that she had not run cross country or track & field in high school but was interested in trying out for the women's cross country team. Zentmeyer added that she had been running anywhere from three to eight miles per week, a far cry from the 40 to 60 miles per week the team members had been logging throughout the summer.

"I nicely told her, ‘You can try out if you want, but we already have a pretty big roster,'" Ricksecker recalled. "I wasn't expecting much."

Zentmeyer caught on to Ricksecker's vibe, remembering that "Coach Rebekah seemed pretty skeptical."

Nevertheless, Zentmeyer drove to Earlysville, Va., on Aug. 30, 2013 to try out for the team at the UVA Duals.

"She went out with the lead group and I thought, ‘This girl is going to die about halfway through the race,'" Ricksecker noted. "But she hung on. For about the last 200 meters of the race, she was just zig zagging with her eyes rolled into the back of her head until she fainted across the finish line.

"My first thought was, ‘Well, this girl knows how to compete.' We added her to the roster as quickly as we could, because she definitely had the heart of somebody we wanted on the team."

Zentmeyer had courageously finished near the middle of the Liberty women's cross country runners that afternoon, trailing 10 future teammates and defeating seven others. The high school volleyball player from Odessa, Fla., was suddenly a Division I athlete.

"It was kind of surreal," stated Zentmeyer. "When I first got on the team, it was just an honor to be part of the team. I wasn't all into the whole running thing at that point, but I loved the team aspect. Over the years, God has developed in me a love for running."

That love for running and a dedication to the sport have led to remarkable improvements on the cross country course and on the track. Despite entering 2016 with a 5K personal best just under 20 minutes and battling an intense workload of junior year nursing classes, Zentmeyer set a goal of breaking the 18-minute barrier this year.

She has not reached that goal yet, but has gotten very close. Zentmeyer sliced her 5K personal best to 18:21.58 at the Sykes-Sabock Challenge Cup indoor meet at Penn State in February. She then lowered it to 18:06.18 outdoors at the Winthrop Invitational the next month.

Zentmeyer went on to score nine team points for the Lady Flames at the 2016 Big South Outdoor Track & Field Championships, courtesy of a fourth-place finish in the 10K and a fifth place in the 5K.

The Big South 10K race was one of the most memorable of Zentmeyer's career. Due to a weather delay, the Big South men's and women's 10K races were contested at the same time at the Matthes-Hopkins Track Complex. That enabled Zentmeyer to race alongside younger brother James, then a freshman on the Liberty men's track & field team.

"That was a really cool experience," Zentmeyer expressed. "One time, James ran by me and I high-fived him. We're really close, as James is probably the closest of my four siblings. It's a blessing to get to run with him at Liberty."

James Zentmeyer, who placed fifth in the Big South men's 10K final that night, has encouraged his older sister with her running.

"My brother has been a huge inspiration," said Terrill. "He's continually setting goals. That's inspired me to set goals of my own, including some big ones.

"I have a huge, God-sized goal to make it to nationals either as a team in cross country or as an individual in track this season," she explained. "We can dream as big as we want and see where God takes it."

Zentmeyer will have the opportunity to lead the Lady Flames in their attempt to become Liberty's first-ever cross country team to reach the NCAA Division I Cross Country Championships, as the senior was voted a team captain.

"I'm so honored to be nominated for team captain," Zentmeyer exclaimed. "I just want to lead with humility, because that's how Jesus led. I want to push myself in workouts and set an example for the younger runners. I also want to be there for my teammates, pouring into them and loving them."

"Terrill has always had the same mentality as a runner and competitor," Ricksecker added. "She pours her heart into every workout and every race. One of the reasons her teammates voted her captain is that they see her pouring her heart into her runs."

Zentmeyer's heart is also evident in her love and concern for others. Since traveling to Guatemala on a medical missions trip in ninth grade, Zentmeyer has felt led to become a nurse on the mission field after graduation.

"I see the huge ministry aspect of nursing, because you're helping people who are vulnerable and open to God," explained Zentmeyer.

For now, though, Zentmeyer has one final year to see how far heart can carry her on the cross country course and around the track.

By Paul Carmany, Associate Athletics Communications Director and cross county contact for Liberty