Class alumna, 22, celebrates her success as an American cross-country student-athlete
By BeLynn Hollers, BA ’21
In Louisville, Kentucky, the ground shook as she left the starting line – Anna Wilgenbusch, theology major in the class of 2022, with 300 other students running alongside her in the Division III cross-country championships of the NCAA 2021. Of the 40 spots available, she placed 34th, making her the only student-athlete from the State of Texas to have been “All-American”, finishing with her best time ever.
This run made Wilgenbusch a two-time cross-country All-American and the only two-time All-American in college history. Now Wilgenbusch has gone to St. Paul, Minnesota, to earn a graduate degree in Catholic Studies at the University of St. Thomas.
Wilgenbusch is not only an accomplished runner, but also a published writer and author whose time at UD can be seen in her focus on her own body, soul and spirit.
“I really didn’t want to choose a college based on athletics. It just wasn’t the college experience I was looking for,” Wilgenbusch says of her UD origin story, though she recalls that the lack of resources at the Division III level brought its own challenges.
“I went through a period of questioning whether racing at the D3 level was really the experience I wanted, but ultimately I found so much more in the college experience than just racing,” said Wilgenbusch.
Part of that experience was turning to the student newspaper, The University News, where she worked as an editor, sports editor, and finally editor. She completed an internship at the Catholic News Agency in 2020.
“I realized that journalism is something that brings a lot of life; I love embarking on a new story. It’s like an adventure,” Wilgenbusch said.
In the student-run newspaper, his sports commentary focused on the human person as a whole.
She wrote about her experience at the NCAA Championships for the student newspaper in an article titled “The Crippling Condemnation of Success”. In the article, Wilgenbusch tells how her sporting path was marked by success – failure scared her the most.
She quotes a quote from Father Jacques Philippe: “Modern man is doomed to success because without God there is no place to take his failure.”
“I had nowhere to go if I failed: no identity, no purpose, no value. My only option was to succeed. I was doomed,” she wrote.
Before the race started, Wilgenbusch and his trainer bowed their heads in prayer. “I offer you this race as a prayer, for the praise of your glory,” she wrote.
The moment the shot fired, Wilgenbusch chose success; removing all fear and the possibility of failure, she chose for herself.
“As I strolled through the finish corral, out of breath and looking for my coach, my eyes filled with tears of joy. I was not doomed to this success. This success was freely chosen, and that made all the difference,” Wilgenbusch wrote.
Her gift for expression through words goes beyond her contributions to journalism and flourished in Catholic children’s books.
Together with his illustrator mother, Wilgenbusch launched a series of children’s books called “Secret Reliquary”, a series about a little boy who finds a reliquary in his home with relics that transport him back in time. So far, Wilgenbusch has self-published two books in the series: Adventures of Aquinas and Trust Falls with Therese.
Wilgenbusch says she just finished the third, with the fourth and fifth in the series in the works.
Her writing abilities and her athleticism bring a duality to her personality: they are not separate, but integrated.
“Education includes body, soul and spirit, and the team has really been able to fill that need, in a way that I don’t know how anything else really could have,” he said. -she explains.
Many Wilgenbusch days began with 5:30 a.m. workouts; it’s where she says her liberal arts education was accomplished, running 15 miles and then running ironically in class.
Head coach of the cross country and track and field programs, Nick Schneigert, describes Wilgenbusch as a “coachable athlete.”
“One of the reasons she was so successful is that we were always able to keep communication open. During the off-seasons she always asked me what to do. During the cross-country and track, we worked closely together and always had a strategy in place to succeed. No complaints from either of us. She just did it,” he shared.
Wilgenbusch describes his conversations during bus rides and practices with his teammates as “profound” and essential to his development as a whole human person.
“It’s all just built into me – having these conversations even with teammates, while we’re running or on the buses,” Wilgenbusch said.
“In all aspects of team life, it’s really a place where a liberal upbringing is really cultivated,” she added.
For her, running and faith are intimately linked. The pain and suffering of a tough race gave her the opportunity to bring spiritual intent to the difficulty she faced.
“For a difficult race, I would simply recall the agony in the garden as Christ’s premonitions of his own sufferings. I would unite with him in that anticipation, and then I would be able to offer the pain I felt while training for a particular intention,” Wilgenbusch explained. “I can offer them in prayer, making my breath prayer.”
Wilgenbusch credits UD with helping shape her whole person “beyond the student-athlete identity.” As she mourns her identity as a student-athlete, she looks to the future with gratitude to her teammates, her coach, and now her alma mater.