From Central Park to the Steeplechase

Last Saturday, Leslie Canter PZ ’12 broke the Sagehens’ school record in the steeplechase by 15 seconds at the Pomona-Pitzer Invitational. I assumed that being a school record-holder, Canter must have been running competitively her entire life. A few minutes into our conversation, though, she proved me wrong. Surprisingly, Canter did not even initially plan to run for the Sagehens.

Canter has always been an athlete and a competitor, playing everything from volleyball to field hockey in her childhood. She was a serious racer, as well, captaining her high school swim team. Between all the other sports in which Canter was involved, running took the back-burner as a fun hobby—that is, until a few years ago.

Canter’s love for running really evolved during her first year of college, which she spent at NYU.

“That was my escape,” she said of her long runs. “My favorite part of New York was running in the park.”

More than just the running, Canter loved the social aspect that accompanied it. She joined the New York Road Runners club where she made many new friends that shared her passion, giving her a sense of camaraderie. One of her fondest memories is waking up at an ungodly hour on the weekend to go run a half marathon in Central Park.

“It was so cold and miserable,” she said, laughing. “But it was so neat to be miserable with 5,000 other people. No one else is on the train at 6 a.m., save the people doing the exact same thing you’re doing.”

Running has not only provided Canter with a sense of community, but it has also been a means for her to explore new places.  Having done a lot of traveling, often on her own, Canter rarely goes anywhere without her running shoes.

“The best way to be introduced to a place is to put on your running shoes and just explore,” she said. “It’s really getting dirty, experiencing the smells, the tastes, stubbing your foot on that clod of dirt. You get to see the places you miss when you’re driving in a van.”

A smile spreads across Canter’s face as she recalls her daily running route while living in Thailand for a summer.  She ran past the same lady serving the same two men drinks on a little back road after work every Tuesday and Thursday evening for months.

“They must have been thinking, who is this sweaty American girl always running by us?” she laughed.

When Canter first transfered to Pitzer, a new place and a new community, she naturally turned to running. During her first year in Claremont, she decided to join the track team, unsure of what to expect but excited about being part of a team environment. The track team not only provided Canter with a sense of community in a new place, but it also helped her ease into competitive running. Canter loved the atmosphere and competition so much she joined the cross country team the following fall, committed to racing in a Sagehen uniform.

Canter’s P-P running career was not all smooth sailing, though. Last season she came off to a slow start with an injury, then ended the season exhausted after running herself into the ground. This season, Canter was excited to come out strong, work hard and achieve her goals. Having a full year of competitive running experience under her belt, she was prepared to overcome not only physical barriers of racing but the mental ones as well.

“You can get to a certain degree of physical fitness, but [running] is so mental,” Canter said. “It’s how much you’re willing to push your mind. It takes a different kind of focus.”

Though she was timid to admit it, breaking the steeplechase record has been Canter’s goal all season. She is friends with Rose Haag PO ’10, her old teammate who held the previous record, and the two have even joked about it. Haag has not hesitated to remind Canter that the record was there for her to break. 

“It’s something I worked really hard for,” Canter said. “It’s reassuring to know that I can push myself, that if I want something enough, I can do it.”

Though Canter set her sights on impressive accomplishments, she loves that running is a sport in which people at all levels can be competitive.

“It’s neat to work with a community, a family, train really hard, then celebrate each individual as he or she hits their goals,” she said. “Whether they are qualifying for nationals or come out and have just finished the mile, it’s a cool thing to be a part of.”

And it is something Canter plans to be a part of for a long time. While exploring post-graduation plans, she has been simultaneously researching running clubs to join.

“I love running. I love how it makes me feel. I love that you can do it anywhere,” Canter said. “It’s never a bad idea to go on a run.”

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