For as long as she's been running, Brittany Schwarz has been looking ahead to a future as a collegiate competitor.
Her long wait will be over soon … and now she knows where her future lies.
The Dixon senior distance runner recently signed a National Letter of Intent to run both cross country and track for the next 4 years at the University of Illinois at Chicago, with 50 percent of her scholarship coming in each sport.
While proximity to home is a big convenience – "It will be nice to be able to take the train home," Schwarz said – it was the UIC program and coaching staff that cemented her decision.
"I absolutley love the coach, Jim Knoedel; he definitely was a deciding factor," Schwarz said. "I liked the school from the beginning, but he helped me finalize my decision when I was choosing between two schools."
Schwarz, a three-time state qualifier in cross country and a two-time state qualifier in track, made her final choice between UIC and Southern Illinois University at Edwardsville.
The fact that she found a school who wants her to run both cross country and track – Knoedel coaches both teams – was an added bonus.
"We kind of expected this," Dixon track coach Brandon Woodward said. "She's quiet and humble, but you can tell she's really excited about this. She's such a great athlete, and she can do it all – open races, relays, whatever – and definitely leads by example. She can put a team on her back, and it's not just about her; she'll do whatever it takes to help the team."
Schwarz also cited the close-knit nature of the UIC squads as a determining factor in her final choice. She believes that atmosphere in college will help her adjust quickly.
"The team bonds well, and I enjoyed spending time with them during my visit," Schwarz said. "I ran against one of the girls at state track [Emma Watson of East Peoria], and I think having the same close-knit team in college as in high school will help me feel better and more comfortable getting used to things."
Schwarz placed in the top 30 at the state cross country meet as a sophomore and junior, and helped Dixon to a fourth-place finish as a team in 2010. She placed 11th in the 800 at the state track meet her sophomore season, then took 10th in the 800 last year while also qualifying in the 1,600.
She is 2 seconds shy of the school record in the 1,600, and she plans on turning her full attention on that mark.
"Now that I know where I'm going to go, I'm going to focus on the mile and maybe the 400 record," Schwarz said. "I feel better now that I'm not worrying about finding a college, and I think this season – and UIC – will be a lot of fun."
An asthma sufferer, Schwarz's ability to battle through her ailments throughout her high school career have endeared her to coaches. Cross country coach Evan Thorpe believes the character she's showed was also one of the reasons why UIC was so high on her.
"It's actually really hampered her, but she still keeps fighting on no matter how frustrated she gets with it," Thorpe said. "I think it's solveable, especailly at a big university where she can get the best treatment available, and I think once they get to the bottom of it and get it figured out, she's going to takes some big steps and have a successful college career to go with her high school success."
Schwarz plans to major in kinesiology at UIC, with an eye toward becoming an occupational therapist. She's looking forward to her time in the big city, and hopes to make an impact for the Flames as quickly as possible.
"I've been thinking about this and planning this ever since before I got to high school," Schwarz said. "Whatever happens [in terms of making an immediate impact] happens, and I just want to be the best I can be, get better as my career goes on, and just have a lot of fun taking my running to the next level."
High school: Dixon
Sports: Cross country, track, wrestling
Highlights: Placed in top 30 individually at team at state cross country meet in 2010 & 2011. … On Dixon's fourth-place state cross country team in 2010 and 11th-place finish in 2011. … Qualified for state cross country meet three times and state track meet twice. … Placed in top 11 each of last 2 years in 800 meters at state track meet.
College: Will run cross country & track at the University of Illinois-Chicago
Future major: Kinesiology, with focus on occupational therapy