Academic Community Engagement
Olden running a race over the finish line
Olden crossing the finish line.

One summer in Iowa: 300 hours of service and 600 miles of running.

Before Brandon Olden '23 answered the phone, he knew exactly why his coach was calling. Only days earlier, Olden became the first Saint in 40 years to qualify for the cross country national championships. He was now just a few days away from leaving for Oklahoma to compete in the biggest race of his life... pending the conversation he was about to have. Olden had recently been exposed to COVID and was in quarantine awaiting his test results. His coach was calling with either the really good news or the utterly gut-wrenching news. Olden could tell the second he answered the phone. He wasn't going to nationals.

"Right away I felt the disappointment of not getting to represent Siena on a national stage. But very shortly after, I realized it was so far out of my control that being upset about it wasn't going to fix what has already happened. Having a ton of support from my team, my girlfriend, and my family certainly helped me get through quarantine. Then I focused on what I could control."

Olden and a young child through his service
Olden with one of his students

Once he was out of isolation, Olden decided he would travel west anyway, but instead of Oklahoma, his destination was Iowa. Typically, Olden would spend the summer training in between shifts as a lifeguard, but with a new perspective came new priorities. He discovered a program through AmeriCorps that catered to high risk students through a summer program in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. He spent nine weeks mentoring elementary-aged students, many of whom had behavioral problems. 

Olden woke up most mornings at 5:30 and went for an easy three to five mile run. He then got on a bus with the students, and worked with them throughout the morning. In the afternoon, he'd take the bus back, and either chaperone an after school program or sort food at an area food reservoir that support the Cedar Rapids food pantries. Then, Olden laced up for his second run of the day, typically about ten miles. Then dinner. Sleep. Repeat. 

"At the end of the day, it was super rewarding. Those were long, hard days, but I'm so grateful for the opportunity. I would really like to do it again."   

Olden was warned against getting too attached to the kids. It was only nine weeks, and then he was gone, and it can sometimes be hard to let go. So, he decided to leave them with something. During the after school program, he would have the children run a giant lap around the school. It's about a quarter of mile, and Olden stressed the freedom and control anyone can experience while running. He didn't talk about his own career, or his lost opportunity at nationals. He just talked about the joy of running. But now that he's back on campus, his focus shifts to the goals he's set for himself.

"I'm extremely motivated to qualify again. I've been visualizing the process of qualifying day-in and day-out ever since I got that call confirming that I wouldn't be able to compete. The process of qualifying during the COVID year was a little different than a typical year, and depending on your conference, it could have been a little easier. So, qualifying in a typical year would mean a lot more, and it's certainly a huge goal of mine."

Brandon Olden '23

The new season is off to a fast start

On September 11, Olden out-ran the field at the Siena Cross Country Invitational - the Saints first home meet in two years. The event featured runners from seven different programs, men and women. Olivia Lomascolo '21 won the women's race, and Siena won both team competitions as well. In fact, it's the first time the Saints have boasted matching team wins at the same meet in four years. Olden and Lomascolo also swept the weekly MAAC awards, both earning conference Runners of the Week. 

The fall campaign continues this weekend at an event in Montgomery, New York.