Q & A with Brigid Byrne ’13, Cross Country Captain
By Gary Lambrecht
For three years, senior Brigid Byrne has been an impact runner at Navy. As a freshman, Byrne was the 2009 Patriot League Cross Country Rookie of the Year. As a junior, she won the PL indoor 5,000-meter track title with the second-fastest time in school history (17:03.16). As a senior this fall, Byrne, the daughter of two 1987 academy graduates, Amy (Donovan) and William, is leading the Midshipmen’s cross country squad as a captain. An English major and Academic All-American who maintains a 3.9 GPA who will be commissioned as a surface warfare officer after graduation, Byrne recently spoke with writer Gary Lambrecht.
Q: How is life as a team captain?
A: It’s the most responsibility I’ve ever dealt with at this school. There is so much to worry about as a captain that school almost seems secondary. If there is a problem with someone else on the cross-country team, the e-mail or the phone call comes to me. Sometimes it’s 11 pm and I’m just getting a chance to crack open a book.
Q: Did the thought of that responsibility weigh on you over the summer?
A: Some of my greatest role models here have been older girls on the team, including our captains. I wasn’t even that passionate about running when I was in high school. But once I saw how much influence that person [as captain] could have during my freshman year, it made me want to be that same kind of positive change in someone’s life. The eyes of the younger girls are on me now, and they are the sponges. I’m lucky because I have the perspective of my Dad, who was a football captain here.
Q: Since your mother, father, uncle and grandfather are Naval Academy graduates, was it a foregone conclusion that you would end up in Annapolis?
A: As a kid, I never had much interest in Navy beyond coming to the homecoming game and going out for fish and chips with my Dad and some of his football buddies. In terms of my college choice, Dad was totally hands-off – same with my uncle and my grandfather. But when it came time to start applying to colleges, my Mom’s rule was you don’t have to go [to Navy], but you have to apply. It has to be on your list.
Q: And then?
A: I applied to some schools for ROTC as well some schools close to home (Vienna, VA) like UVA and James Madison. It took quite a while to fill out the application for Navy. I wanted to do a good job with it, and I figured that would be the end of it and I’d be able to say OK, I tried, just to appease Mom. But about three weeks later, I open up the mail and it’s a framed appointment. My Mom just wanted me to think more clearly about my options. Coming here started to look like the right choice for me.
Q: Were you all in from the start?
A: If I had decided halfway through not to sign my two-for-seven commitment papers, everyone in the family would have been happy that I gave it a shot. I was scared at first about spending five years in the military. I thought, gosh, I’ll be 26 by the time my commitment is done. My life will be over. Now I’m 21 and I’m looking at friends who are 26 who are still working unpaid internships or don’t have jobs at all.
Q: What’s harder to maintain, your running standards or a 3.9 GPA?
A: I don’t think I would have one without the other. When I get to the boiling point with schoolwork and my head is teeming with information, it’s time to practice. I’ve learned how to put them in their separate boxes. I spend three hours with the team [each day], then I get back to the rest of my life.
Q: Why do you run?
A: I like how objective running is. It comes down to me and the clock, me and my shoes. I can’t make excuses for why I didn’t do well. It’s whatever you’ve got inside of you. It’s no-frills athleticism. There is nothing like feeling totally spent at the end of a race.
Q: You ran for three seasons with Jess Palacio, who became arguably the greatest female runner in Navy history. Could you describe the kind of talent you got to witness every day?
A: She is the single most amazing athlete I’ve ever known in real life. She’s a physical specimen who clearly has been blessed with great genes. But she made a decision that she was going to be great, and she went out and did it. She was on a different level than the rest of us.
Q: Is running more fun than ever or harder than ever?
A: I can wrap my head around the concept of running for fun now. I don’t have aspirations of going to the Olympic Trials or doing anything beyond competing at the Division I level in the Patriot League. I want to have a great season. I’d love to run some PRs [personal records]. But then I want to be a jog stroller Mom, a marathon Mom, someone who runs Sunday morning road races. Running makes me happy.