Thursday, October 10th, 2013
Ferguson blossomed into running star
The Last Curtain Call
By Robb Hemmelgarn
When the running career of Julie Rollins initially launched, she didn't log her personal-best times, didn't strive to raise a tall gold trophy or run for any sort of team competition.
She was sprinting through the backyards of Walnut Street in New Bremen toward the most important prize in any six- or seven-year olds' vision: candy. "I was always running," said the former Cardinal cross country standout, who now goes by Julie Ferguson. "In fact, my high school cross country coach, Burt Fiser, used to joke that he remembers when I was a little girl that I used to run through his yard on my way to Schwieterman's drug store at least a few times a day."
Ferguson gave up dodging houses, fences and the occasional swing set for the oval track at New Bremen High School a few years down the road.
"I joined track in seventh grade, certain I would be a sprinter," she said. "After watching me sprint though, my coach thought the mile would be more my thing, so I took right to it. I remember placing second at my first meet to another girl from New Bremen and when my coach asked why I didn't speed up at the end, I told her that the other girl was my teammate and I thought it didn't matter as long as one of us won."
Her courtesy toward teammates eventually fell to the wayside and the following year Ferguson won the Midwest Athletic Conference title in the junior high mile run. Later that autumn she hit the cross country trail for the first time. Although she was loaded with talent, Ferguson admits her attitude nearly sidetracked her career before it took off.
"I ran cross country as a freshman and was on and off the varsity primarily because of the few numbers we had on the team," she said. "I was awful. I can recall my friends and me leaving school on the day of a meet and running to the grocery store to buy a two-liter of 7-up and a bag of chewy Chips Ahoy. Then we raced back to the bus and ate it all on the way to the meet. I remember walking during practice and meets when I should have been running, eating junk food and cutting corners in practice all the time."
Despite her questionable dieting habits and sometimes lackadaisical training, Ferguson became the first female from New Bremen to ever advance to the state cross country meet the following season. Later that school year, she nearly hung up her running shoes for good until an experience on a back country road changed her outlook permanently.
"At one practice, I was walking down the road and a senior on the boys' team ran by and asked me if I was going to try to be good or if I was going to just waste my talent," she said. "I also had the father of a good friend really push me to stay with it. That comment and my friend's father's encouragement really woke me up and was probably the start of it for me."
During her junior cross country season in 1986, Ferguson enjoyed rivalries with several local runners but her primary nemesis on the course practiced only a few miles to the south in Minster.
"My biggest goal was always to beat Stephanie Weaver. She was a grade ahead of me and I always seemed to be chasing her," she explained. "We finished first and second at the MAC meet in cross country my junior year but I was happy to advance to state a few weeks later for the second year in a row."
Next came Ferguson's senior campaign and a revitalized purpose for her and her teammates.
"I was determined to have my team make it to state my senior year. We were small in numbers but we really liked each other and pushed one another to try hard," she said. "I ended up being the only senior on the roster but the younger girls really made it happen. I managed to win the MAC as an individual, but we lost to Minster by a couple of points as a team. Our mission was to beat them to get to state and we ended up doing that. We edged them in regionals and became the first team from New Bremen to go to state in cross country. Although I finished 12th at the meet and our team was eighth out of eight, we managed to meet our goal of getting there."
Following her high school graduation, Ferguson elected to continue her athletic career at Malone University in Canton, where she ran track and cross country for four more years. She qualified for the NAIA nationals every season in both sports and also won several conference meets and broke numerous school records while earning All-American accolades in cross country as a senior in 1991.
In 2004, she was elected into the Malone University Athletic Hall of Fame for her distinguished accomplishments.
"I was not a very good student and I considered college, but figured I'd go to a small Christian school because I had a desire to be a missionary," she pointed out. "I was spotted at the state meet by Malone so I visited in July, signed a letter-of-intent and then started there in August. At the time, they were known for their very good running program and they were a Christian school, although my mother claims I chose them for the disproportionate number of good-looking males to females. I met my husband there on only the second day of preseason, so perhaps she was right."
That meeting led to marriage a year later as she and her husband Pat Ferguson, who played soccer at Malone, tied the knot while both continued with their athletic careers. Following college, Ferguson returned to New Bremen to coach track and cross country before heading back to Malone to coach for five more years. After that, she was back coaching in New Bremen for a season before becoming a stay-at-home-mom for her children who are currently between the ages of 11 and 19. Her husband, Pat, is currently the women's soccer head coach at Wright State University.
"I would say that high school running was very beneficial for me in more ways than I probably knew. It challenged me to really work for something, to set goals and work hard to accomplish them," she proclaimed. "Running also gave me a wonderful opportunity to be a leader and helped me to develop into a much better student in college. I learned how to stick with something and it gave me a sense of accomplishment and a desire to achieve more than I thought I was capable."