All-American Jessie Kindschi (Photo by Mark Philbrick/BYU Photo)
When Jessie Kindschi first started running she did not really enjoy it, but she did like to win. Now that Jessie has learned to love running, winning comes naturally.
Kindschi, a 5-5 junior from Bismarck, N.D., started her cross country and track career in the fourth grade when a friend talked her into participating in a fun run. Since then she has gone nowhere but up.
Her first big success came when she was in seventh grade and ran cross country on the local high school's varsity team. Kindschi said it was not unusual for a seventh grader to run varsity because her school was so small. What is unusual is that Kindschi placed eighth in the high school state championships that year.
Kindschi went on to be the team captain for both her high school cross country and track teams. She holds the two-mile record at Century High School and was named all-conference and all-state in cross country five times. In addition to cross country, Kindschi also received all-conference and all-state honors in swimming.
She began her collegiate career at South Dakota State, in Brookings, S.D., with a bang, earning All-American status in cross country and track and finishing third in the 5000 meter at the NCAA Indoor National Championships. Going into the 2001 Outdoor Track Championships, she was ranked first in the nation for Division II in the 5000 meter and third in the 10,000 meter, but stress fractures left her frustrated and unable to compete in nationals.
During her career, Kindschi has suffered from five stress fractures, causing her to take at least six weeks off each time. After working hard all season to reach her peak, she has been crushed by a season ending injury every outdoor track season of her collegiate career. After suffering from stress fractures and missing nationals in 2000, she returned to North Dakota dejected and ready to give up. At one point she considered quitting the sport, but her mentor and friend from home quickly helped Kindschi change her mind.
In 2001, while at the Mt. SAC Relays in California, Kindschi saw a big group of BYU women's track athletes laughing and smiling, and she wanted to be a part of that. After her closest teammate at South Dakota State transferred to the University of Florida, Kindschi knew it was time to move on. She was impressed by the honor code, BYU's high standards and the beauty of Utah, so she transferred to BYU and has never regretted it.
"I have felt grateful everyday for making that decision," Kindschi said. "People have welcomed me, and I have met my closest friends at BYU."
At her first race as a Cougar, Kindschi quickly proved that she could compete at the Division I level by placing first in the 5K at the Great Race in San Francisco, Calif., with a time of18:11.1.
Last year, as she headed into nationals for cross country, she and BYU Head Coach Patrick Shane hoped that she might be named an All-American, but she had not even considered placing in the top 10. Kindschi exceeded her expectations by placing seventh at nationals and helping lead BYU to be the NCAA Division I Cross Country Champions.
"It was the surprise of my life," remarked Kindschi.
But for Coach Shane it was not so unexpected. He said it was a pleasant surprise, but not a complete shock. Shane said he knew she was capable of finishing in the top 10.
"She had been running well, but by placing so high she showed what an individual can do when the team needs them," he said. "She ran her heart out. She did it for the team."
At nationals Kindschi's teammate Michaela Manova placed fifth, which is the highest a BYU female athlete has ever placed at the National Cross Country Championships. Kindschi's seventh place finish is the second highest finish ever.
"I was hoping for a top 25 finish, but I saw Michaela and knew I would prefer running with a teammate," Kindschi said. "I felt really good and the pace wasn't too fast so I just stayed with her the whole race." Kindschi finished just seven seconds behind Manova. In 2001, Kindschi was also named an All-American in cross country and indoor track.
Coach Shane said with over 300 athletes competing at nationals, Kindschi's high finish reflects her talent and willingness to put the team first. He said she proved that she could do for others what she could not do for herself.
"She is outgoing, fun and she sparkles," Shane said. "She is always doing something for someone else and she is a remarkable young woman."
Kindschi said the key to her success is that she has found the right coach and the right team. "BYU has the greatest coach in the world," she said. He has taught her how to work smarter and has created a great environment for running. Coach Shane has led BYU women's cross country team to 11 consecutive conference titles and three national championships and has been named National Coach of the Year three times.
She said there are so many factors other than just herself that have helped her succeed. "There is no one certain ingredient that leads to success," Kindschi said. "You just have to find what works for you."
Kindschi's parents are one ingredient that have helped her be successful. "They are unconditionally supportive," she said. "They don't push me, they just encourage me."
In addition to her parents, Kindschi said the other girls on the team have been a great support for her through their guidance and examples of hard work. Kindschi said her favorite part about running is being with her teammates.
One of Kindschi's teammates and closest friends, Amy Bair, said Jessie is one of the most dedicated and hard working runners she has ever seen. "She is successful because she is willing to do what it takes and then more," said Bair.
Bair said Kindschi will not only be a key contributor to the team this year as a runner, but she also does a lot for the dynamics of the team. "She will do anything for anyone and she is one of the sweetest, most friendly and unselfish people I have ever met," she said.
Last year at regionals, Bair had one of her toughest meets, but Kindschi was right there to encourage her. "She had faith in me when I didn't have faith in myself," said Bair.
Heading into her senior year, Kindschi and her teammates have high hopes. Kindschi wants to work even harder and stay healthy all the way through the outdoor track season. Coach Shane said the first priority is to keep her healthy and injury free. He also expects her to do the same things she did last year that led her to be successful.
Coach Shane shys away from setting goals, but he still has a vision for what Kindschi can accomplish. He said if she does all that is needed to help the team realize its potential, then she will be a success.
With four returning All-Americans, Coach Shane is excited to see what his team can do this year. He said they may never be as good as last year's team, but they will try their best and see where that gets them in November at the NCAA National Championships. "We'll go the extra mile and then we'll see what happens," Shane said.
"I would not trade this team for any other," said Shane. "We have lots of talent, lots of depth and we have athletes who have proved that they know how to get it done at the national level."
As for her future, Kindschi will apply to medical school after she graduates in April in zoology with an emphasis in human biology. She hopes to attend the University of North Dakota, in Grand Forks, N.D., so she can be close to her family and friends. While she is excited to move on after college, she currently has her sights set on another national championship for her team.