There may be many ‘Katie's' on the Linfield College campus, but there is only one Katie Skinner.
The cross country team captain finished Saturday's six-kilometer course at McIver State Park in 23 minutes, 12 seconds, making her the Wildcats' second-fastest female competitor at the 2013 Lewis & Clark Invitational. Associate head coach Greg Mitchell is quick to caution that numbers can't tell the whole story of every variable on race day, but he's certainly glad to have such a powerful presence on the Linfield running corps.
“Katie has definitely filled a void as a strong female leader in the last couple of years,” he observes. “The finish times might not show it, but she's our No. 1 girl in a lot of ways.”
That hasn't always been the case, though. For one thing, she hasn't always been a runner.
“I played basketball and softball growing up. I actually thought I was going to go to college for softball,” Skinner remembers. But once a friend talked her into joining the cross country team halfway through the season her freshman year of high school, she was hooked.
“It's funny because she ended up quitting, but I ended up staying,” Skinner laughs.
A versatile athlete, she went on to earn 13 letters in varsity athletics from Franklin High School in Portland, Ore., impressively competing in both softball and track the spring of her junior year.
Despite her chosen college's softball success, she never wanted to be part of Linfield's Catball program, but became a member of the cross country and track teams straightaway.
“We were definitely excited about her high school credentials when she first came in,” Mitchell recalls.
The adjustment to college was not an easy one for Skinner.
“I felt intimidated when I got here,” she remembers, mentioning a sudden fear of presenting in front of her classes. “I had been the student body president, leading cheers at pep rallies in front of the entire school!”
Skinner says she was at the top of her game leaving Franklin, but found it hard to make a name for herself in a new environment. Her first years competing for the Wildcats yielded only middling results for both cross country and middle distance track teams.
“She took running so seriously that it didn't allow her to do her best,” her coach says.
Now, though, athlete and coach alike are glad her runner's block is a thing of the past.
“My junior year, something just clicked. I was more confident, more at ease,” Skinner says. “I reminded myself that I needed to just have fun with it. I didn't need to be intimidated by running.”
“Katie's always been a responsible athlete and a hard worker. She didn't train any differently that summer after her sophomore year, but something reignited her love of running,” says Mitchell.
Skinner says she was reminded of why she loves to compete. “Running is distinct from every other sport. It seems simple on the surface, but it's so complex and mentally challenging. I think running is a good metaphor for life, and it applies to people from all walks of life.”
She also loves the attitude of the running community — laid back and relaxed, yet tough and gritty at the same time — and, especially, the unique community that is Linfield's cross country team. She shares captaincy of the women's squad with fellow seniors Hannah Greider and Mimi Seeley.
“Katie's one of my favorite people on the team,” Greider contributes. “I admire her because she's accepting, kind, and easy to talk to. She has a great work ethic. Katie's a good runner and a good leader.”
Her coach agrees, saying he values her opinion and insights when it comes to working with people.
Skinner herself gives credit to the older athletes who were positive role models for her when she first joined the team — and to a love of studio art, which has helped her learn to think creatively.
“My time in the art department has been eye-opening because it's helped me understand different ways of thinking,” Skinner says. Ultimately, though, she simply enjoys the creative outlet of working with wood, ceramics and photography.
“It helps me a lot to balance academics with things I enjoy, like art and athletics. It's energizing.”
That's not to say that she doesn't enjoy her chosen field of study.
“I knew I wanted to do something with politics,” she says. “Linfield created the International Relations major my sophomore year and it was perfect timing.” She spent her required semester abroad in Galway, Ireland, last spring.
Skinner says that she may get into government in the future, but would like most of all to travel the world and do humanitarian work along the way. She hopes to revisit Europe, spend time in Africa, and explore South America, possibly as an international art collector.
Before that, though, Skinner and her team are beating a path toward a strong finish to their cross country season.
“The women's team is talented and deep. They work together really well, and a good performance at conference would be the icing on the cake,” Mitchell says.
Hopes are high after the final regular-season meet. Whatever the race results may be in Spokane, everyone who knows her can see that senior Katie Skinner has made great strides already.
- Lexy Chapman ‘15