It’s a cold, damp morning and the dew-laden grass running along the train tracks just outside the track at Linfield College is long and in need of a trim. The average passerby undoubtedly continues on their way without paying much notice to the setting. It’s still dark and most people are either on their way to work or unwillingly pulling their sheets off when the 6 a.m. alarm rings loud and clear.
Yet for some, there is nothing more peaceful than the blanket of brilliant green and the soft slosh of running shoes lightly covering the terrain during an early morning workout.
“Running,” says Linfield junior Siena Noe “always has kept me sane.”
While those six words may appear to paint a simple picture of the notion of using a sport to escape the stresses of everyday life, for Noe there is a much greater implied meaning.
Blaise Noe, Siena’s toddler son, came into this world almost exactly one year ago. For Siena, running has in many ways acted as an anchor throughout the difficult and uncertain times she has faced.
Noe has been running competitively for as long as she can remember, though the switch from soccer to the sport of cross country didn’t happen until her junior year of high school. “I liked cross country better in high school, but at Linfield I like track significantly better,” Noe said. “The changing scenery in cross country is nice, but I like that track is straightforward and you are focused on hitting a certain time.”
As a freshman, Noe had a promising future and appeared to be poised for a slot as one of Linfield’s top distance runners. Noe finished her first year of college and headed back to her hometown of Yakima, Wash., for the summer, unaware of the major life changes that were about to unfold.
Noe became pregnant.
At the time the thought of running vanished to the back of her mind. “I resigned myself to the fact that I wouldn’t come back to Linfield, and that I would stay at home and work things out,” Noe says, reflecting back.
She considered continuing her education at Central Washington University in nearby Ellensburg. “At first I wanted to be close to home because I wasn’t sure if I would be able to handle it on my own,” Noe remembers. “But after awhile I didn’t see any reason not to come back to Linfield, and I started looking into whether or not I could keep my scholarships.”
It turns out Noe’s decision to return to McMinnville may have been the best thing for both her and Blaise.
“I sent out a ton of emails to see if anyone could help make it work, and I got really lucky when Eileen Allen, my work study boss from freshman year, told me I could rent a room in her house,” Noe explains of her good fortune in locating an affordable living situation.
With her scholarships renewed and a place to live, it appeared everything was in line for Noe to beat the odds and resume her pursuit of a bachelor's degree from Linfield.
Then there were the constant demands of caring for a baby. And running. And maintaining good relationships with her teammates and coaches.
At first, she kept the idea of returning to competition to herself. “I wasn’t sure what I was going to do,” Noe explains. “I told the coaches in the middle of the summer. The following week I sent out an email to the team.”
“We kind of assumed Siena would come back the whole time,” assistant coach Chris McIsaac recalls. “When she talked to us and let us know the situation, we tried to be supportive and really hoped that she would be back.”
There is no question that compassion and respect for Noe abounds throughout the program, as Linfield athletes and coaches alike were thrilled to hear the news of her return. “I was a little concerned about how she was going to manage it all, but mostly I was really excited,” teammate Jill Boroughs says.
“A lot of people thought I wouldn’t come back, and they were really surprised when I got back (to Linfield) early to run,” Noe remembers of the start of the 2011 season.
Working her way through the fall semester of classes, reality began to sink in that her life would change for the better.
“My family was definitely the most supportive all the way through it, from the summer before through the whole pregnancy and after Blaise was born,” Noe says with a sense of pride. “They are always willing to drop everything and help me out in any way I needed.”
With overwhelming support from her family, friends, and nearly everyone who was a part of her life, Noe returned to do the one thing that she had always known how to do: Run.
“I was really nervous, because I didn’t know what people expected of me or what I expected of myself,” Noe remembers about the first time she competed after the baby’s birth. “It was odd. I was racing for a college and going to school, yet I had this little person I was taking care of.”
Whether he realizes it or not, Blaise is an avid Linfield track supporter. Siena says having her son attend her races would not be possible if it weren’t for the support of her teammates. “It seemed like just about everyone was willing to watch him and everyone took turns helping out with him so I could race.”
While Sienna has a nanny who cares for Blaise as she attends classes, her teammates often provide respite from the stresses that come with being a single mother. “The hardest thing in terms of school was the lack of sleep,” she says.
Boroughs, Noe’s resident advisor a year ago, recalls watching everything unfold. “I remember just seeing the whole process and how she grew. Siena is very much in it for Blaise, and she always wants to give him the best that she can.”
“She loves Blaise and is a very strong and independent person,” teammate Brooke Niemann adds. “I see her being successful in everything she tries in life.”
Boroughs and Niemann are among the many teammates who help babysit Blaise. They recognize how appreciative Noe is to have unwavering support. “I try to help whenever I can, usually when Siena just wants to take a nap or rest,” Burroughs says.
“It wasn’t until (fall 2012) that I was able to get Blaise to go to bed early enough that I could start homework before midnight,” Noe remembers.
Her coaches are understandably impressed. “She is really resilient, hard-working and just an overall very likeable person,” McIsaac says of Noe’s character. “It’s rewarding to see her be able to compete at a high level. After all she has been through, she definitely deserves it.”
As she reflects on the events of the past 24 months, Noe says she’s learned to live in the moment. “This whole experience has definitely made me realize what is important.”
When the news struck Noe that she was going to be a mother, she could have very easily forgotten about school, instead focusing all her energy and attention on her child. “It’s not just me I’m living for now. I can’t have a day where I want to slack off because I have someone else to think about.”
No one would have called her weak or criticized her for leaving her teammates behind but that type of mindset doesn’t fit Noe’s character. Instead she devoted herself to finding balance between her roles as parent, student and athlete.
Though it will always be a struggle, Noe is the kind of person to approach whatever obstacles stand in her way with confidence. As for running, there’s no reason why she won’t continue to excel in competition. After all, she has a one-year-old pair of brilliant blue eyes in the form of Linfield’s smallest – and biggest – fan watching her every race.
- Evan O’Kelly ‘13