There were multiple times when IU junior Katherine Receveur questioned if she was good enough to compete at the collegiate level.
The reigning NCAA All-American’s path to the elite levels of cross-country was not an easy one.
Despite constant adversity, she's approached each setback as just another goal to conquer.
The hardships began late in her high school career at Assumption High School in Louisville, Kentucky. Receveur was plagued with a string of injuries, including a stress fracture, mononucleosis and an iron deficiency that led to a trip to the hospital right before her freshman year of college in 2014 at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio.
The struggles trickled over to her freshman year, during which she ran cross-country at Miami.
She was still recovering from her injuries and was stuck in a situation that she said was simply a bad fit for her.
Her career as a RedHawk ended after just a semester. She went back home to continue her training. That’s when the doubt started to kick in.
“It was frustrating,” Receveur said. “It was always just one thing after another.”
However, the fire inside Receveur driving her to be great still burned as intensely as ever.
Her high school career ended in disappointment after the injuries, and her college career had gotten off to a rocky start. But she knew there was still some potential for improvement that nobody else had seen.
“When I was at Miami, I didn’t know if I wanted to keep running,” Receveur said. “One day, I don’t know what it was, something clicked where I felt like I had so much more to accomplish.”
That’s what led to her interest in IU. She sent letters to the IU coaching staff, explaining her situation, longing for another chance to prove she could be the runner she knew she could be.
The chance came when Coach Ron Helmer invited her to do some workouts and train with the IU team during the summer of 2015. At first, it didn’t go well and led to more doubts for Receveur.
Receveur was way behind all the other IU runners after training on her own for a whole spring semester. She couldn’t keep up.
Despite the fact that Receveur was behind in her training, Helmer offered her the opportunity to come back that season to earn a spot on the IU team. He warned her it would take some serious training in the offseason. He questioned if she would even show up again.
“At first, she was not close to fitting in to what we wanted to do here,” Helmer said. “It was almost like I couldn’t understand why she kept coming back. It had to be extremely discouraging.”
Even Receveur, who had wanted to prove herself so badly, was starting to question herself.
“There was definitely doubt,” Receveur said. “I’m sure after a few months the coaches started to wonder if I was going to be here much longer. I went home that summer knowing my spot on the team was on the line.”
But she returned. After some intense training in Louisville that summer, Receveur came back to Bloomington in better shape and determined to earn her spot on the team, which she eventually did.
Her redshirt freshman season in 2015-16 was a fairly quiet one. She had a little success in track and field in the spring, but her improvement was evident to Helmer. The desire to get better is still a character trait he said he sees in Receveur today as she works her way into the elite class of top runners in the nation.
“We talk about how ordinary people can do extraordinary things,” Helmer said. “Until we accept the work that needs to be done in order to accomplish that, it’s probably fairly futile. I think her experience of things initially not going as well as she would have hoped has led to her desire to understand what it takes to be good.”
Receveur’s drive led her to continue the intense training that helped her improve during the offseason. She said she was finally completely healthy and liked the situation and the teammates she was around at IU.
She started to accomplish each of her goals one by one. She made the team at IU and proved she could run at the college level, but there was still something missing.
There was still a goal she had not fulfilled. She wanted to prove she could be a great runner.
That’s when things really began to take off. Receveur returned to Bloomington for her sophomore year coming off the best training of her career.
She exploded in the college cross-country season in 2016 with one dominant performance after another. By the end of the year, she finished as the second-best individual at the Big Ten Championships and qualified for the NCAA National Championships, where she finished 11th overall and earned All-American honors.
It was a turnaround that nobody expected, except for Receveur.
“I always knew I wanted to do great things with running,” Receveur said.
Her success from last year has transferred to her junior year this season.
She continues to one-up herself as she has maintained her place among the most dominant runners in the Big Ten.
She managed to break the women’s 6K course record at the IU Championship Cross Country Course with a time of 20:54.15 at the Sam Bell Invitational in September, and then broke that time Oct. 13, at the Nuttycombe Invitational in Wisconsin, where she finished 10th overall with a time of 20:00.5.
She's also been named Big Ten Athlete of the Week for women's cross-country three different times.
Helmer credits Receveur's ability to buy into what it takes to be great for her ascendance to the elite collegiate ranks.
“A lot of people fall in love with the idea of being great,” Helmer said. “You don’t have a lot of people who fall in love with the reality of what you have to do be great and that’s what Katherine has done.”
With the Big Ten Championships approaching next week in Bloomington, Receveur is the favorite to win. She doesn’t think about that though. She’s approaching the race as she approaches everything else — just another goal to achieve.
“Ever since I had my struggles early on, when I accomplish one goal I make another one immediately,” Receveur said. “That just makes me hungrier for more."
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