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Dancer Turns Runner: Keene State's Whitney on the Fast Track

February 14, 2013

Keene State College’s Marie Whitney is on the fast track. Not only did the junior from Jaffrey recently race to a New England Division III and ECAC Track Championship qualifying time for the first time, but she’s also on course to graduate from Keene State in just three years.

“I like to stay busy,” said Whitney, who credits good time management for her ability to juggle a demanding academic schedule with her running.

While her daily runs this time of year might not be so welcoming, they serve not only as an athletic but also a therapeutic and stimulating diversion. “I think running helps me handle the stress from school,” she said. “I can go out for a run and feel so much better. I’ve really learned how to balance school work and running.”

The results speak for themselves. In the classroom, Whitney is a stellar student, boasting an impressive 3.91 GPA as a communications major. This past weekend on the track, she finished third in the 3,000-meter race at the Dartmouth Classic with a New England Division III and ECAC Championship qualifying time of 10:38.15.

“Before the race, I mentally prepared myself to work as hard as I can,” said Whitney. “I was really trying to qualify, and I was able to pull it off. It was really rewarding and I felt so great about that.”

Whitney also feels good about her academic accomplishments. “Academics have always come first for me. Even in high school, I strived to be at the top of my class,” said Whitney, who graduated in the top 10% of her class at Conant High School.

The idea to graduate ahead of schedule is nothing new in the Whitney family. Her dad (Robert) graduated from Bentley College in three years, and her young sister Natalie, who now attends Roger Williams University in Rhode Island, was on the three-year plan at Conant High.

Running was a different story. Except for an occasional jog around the neighborhood with her mother Dana, Whitney, who lived in Rindge before moving to Jaffrey at the age of 14, was preoccupied with a different pursuit – dancing. “It was a huge part of my life,” said Whitney, who spent just about every day refining her repertoire at the Monadnock Performing Arts Academy in Peterborough.

Family and friends attending a performance by Whitney certainly got its money’s worth. The whimsical Whitney can grace the stage with a variety of fare, including ballet, jazz, and her favorite, hip-hop. “I always loved being on stage and performing in front of an audience,” she said.

Recruited to the Conant girls outdoor track team by her pre-calculus teacher Lance Flamino, a former KSC runner who went on to the coach the Orioles for several seasons, Whitney soon traded in her dancing shoes for running shoes. “I tried it and I loved it,” said Whitney, who ran outdoor track as a junior and senior.

Whitney didn’t totally abandon dancing – once a dancer, always a dancer. “I knew Marie was a serious dancer,” said Flamino. “Every now and then, we’d be stretching at track practice, and I’d see someone doing pirouettes up on toes. That was more impressive than her running for me.”

Showing significant improvement on the track, Whitney qualified for the Meet of Champions in the mile as a senior.

Keene State wasn’t originally on Whitney’s dance card. Beckoned by the area and pleasant climate, Whitney initially spent a semester at the College of Charleston in South Carolina before returning home and enrolling at Keene State.

Introduced to cross-country running, Whitney thrived on the trails, gradually moving up Keene State’s ladder. This past season, Whitney played a major role leading the Owls to their 13th consecutive Little East Championship when she passed several runners over the final half mile to be the team’s third finisher. “I just told myself there’s a half mile left and I needed to push it,” said Whitney. “I can do it then the pain will be over.”

Although Whiney doesn’t feel there’s an athletic correlation between dancing and running, she does sense the same mental approach. “I mentally prepare for a race like I do for a performance.”

Completing her academic requirements this spring, the always ambitious Whitney is looking to see what other acts she can add to her performance list. In a few weeks, she’s starting an internship with the City of Keene Human Resource Department and is also weighting grad school options, including a program at Keene State.

Already in step when it came to dancing, Whitney is glad she can to express herself through academics and athletics at Keene State. “Coming out of high school, I never envisioned myself at Keene State, but I’m so happy and thankful that I’m here, because I love my experience here both academically and athletically,” she said. “I couldn’t ask for a better college experience.”