by Sasha Reddy
There are few things more gratifying than when others recognize the dedication you’ve invested and obstacles you’ve overcome to reach your goal. It creates a sense that your time and effort have paid off. Quinn O’Dell, a senior attending Delaware Military Academy, is still living that feeling. Why? On top of being one of the fastest high school runners in the state, Quinn has recently accepted a scholarship offer from St. Joseph’s University to join their Division 1 track team this coming fall.
Quinn first went out for the track team in 8th grade. “My brother was doing it, so I figured I might as well give it a shot,” he remembers. He soon knew that running was something he genuinely loved and wanted to get better at. As a freshman, he was constantly seeking out his coach for running advice and suggestions. By the end of his first high school cross-country season, he’d made the varsity team for counties and states.
Quinn had a strong cross-country season his sophomore year, too. He’d spent all summer running in preparation for fall races, typically hitting 50 miles each week as part of his largely self-directed training regimen. “I ran 16:14 at the Joe O’Neill Invitational [5k event],” he remembers proudly. “I got second in states that year for Division 2.” This was Quinn’s big breakout achievement as a runner, though, due to covid-19, he would not have the same opportunities to show off his hard work until junior year. Most of his spring track meets were canceled, but Quinn was still quick to find the silver lining. Rather than spend the time dwelling over his missed track season, he took the opportunity to figure out what kind of runner he wanted to be and hammer down on his training. That spring, his mileage spiked to an incredible 70-80 miles per week.
December of his junior year, two weeks before the Delaware Open, Quinn began experiencing some pain in his right calf. He started working with Tommy at Elite PT, hoping to recover enough to complete the season’s final meet without any issue. But within the first few steps of the race, Quinn felt a pull in his leg and knew something wasn’t right. “It wasn’t a tear, just a really bad strain,” says Quinn. While the injury may not have been serious at first, pushing it further could have easily led to even more severe damage. So, in addition to continued physical therapy, Quinn began meeting with HAC Personal Trainer and Run HAC Coach Jen Besten for more training focused on injury-prevention.
In the words of Quinn’s freshman year coach, everything in your body is like a chain: if you have one weak link, it pulls on the rest of the string. Runners tend to have weaker hips than other athletes because their sport utilizes fewer lateral (side-to-side) movements. This means that Quinn’s injury was likely caused by his calf compensating for his unbalanced hips. So, even though his calf was hurt, he and Jen focused mainly on strengthening his hip flexors during their sessions. Quinn did not run at all for the first month of their training, focusing instead on aqua jogging and light cross-training three times a week with Jen’s guidance. After that, it was a slow build-up, adding a few miles each week that winter until he was back up to 50 miles per week.
By spring 2021, Quinn was firing on all cylinders. To make up for a so-so cross-country season, he chose a personal goal to set a new record for his school. That track season, he achieved not one but two records: 9 minutes, 40 seconds for the 2-mile (25 seconds less than the previous record) and 4 minutes, 32 seconds for the 1600-meter (trumping his own record of 4:34).
This was also around the time when Quinn began thinking about college. “I grew up knowing about St. Joe’s,” he says. His mom and grandfather are St. Joseph’s University alumni, so the institution was already on his radar. After exchanging emails back and forth with their running coach during track season, Quinn got to hang out with the St. Joseph’s team over video call several times that summer. Then, in the fall of his senior year, he was invited for an official visit.
“…the second you cross the finish line, you aren’t just competitors anymore. You’re friends.”
“Being on a Zoom call is one thing,” Quinn says, “but going up there and being around the people and seeing how you fit into that dynamic – it’s completely different.” Within minutes of his first in-person meeting, it clicked. Quinn knew he wanted to be a Hawk and run under St. Joseph’s coach.
When his last high school cross-country season finally came around this past fall, Quinn knew he wanted to make it count. He was in great shape thanks to his continued strength training and running rotation. At his first race of the season, Quinn achieved a 16:22 in the 5K event, just seven seconds slower than his personal best and way faster than the second-place finisher at that meet. At a later meet, Quinn ran the same distance in just 15 minutes and 55 seconds. “I got top three in pretty much every race I ran that season except for states,” he says. Even at the state meet, when slippery conditions caused him to fall twice, he still managed to accomplish a sixth-place finish.
Quinn’s entire high school running career culminated in one phone call he received this past December, right after the end of his cross-country season. It was Coach Glavin at SJU ringing to offer Quinn a running scholarship. “This is what I’ve been working hard for,” Quinn gushes. All the meets, training, and days of running in sweltering, 90-degree summer heat or below-freezing winter temps were made worthwhile by that call. St. Joseph’s was the place he wanted to go, and Glavin was the coach he wanted to run for. There was hardly a pause or lack of excitement when Quinn responded with a resounding yes. A week later, Quinn received his admissions email from St. Joseph’s University. He filled out all the accompanying paperwork and officially accepted his offer the very next day.
Before becoming a runner, Quinn tried several sports: baseball, basketball, soccer, plus one or two others. He didn’t fall in love with running just because he loves to run. What drew him to cross country and track was the level of sportsmanship and camaraderie, even between athletes on opposing teams. “Whenever I want to run fast,” Quinn says, “I try to look for the other guy that I’m racing against who I know is going to be really good and be like, ‘Hey! What time are you trying to shoot for? I’ll try and stick right behind you, and we can help each other go.’ And the second you cross that finish line, you aren’t just competitors anymore. You’re friends.”
For Quinn, running isn’t about beating the people around you so much as it is about running your own race and competing against your previous best. He has made tons of friends through shared running experiences, and he’s thrilled to continue making more in the coming fall as a third-generation Hawk.