Running over the competition

A year after sitting a season to recover from injury, Molly Steer is making her mark on the OUA

Molly Steer finished 10th at the 2017 OUA Championships.
Credit: 
Supplied by Molly Steer

As she crossed the finish line at the 2017 OUA Championships, Molly Steer was in a state of disbelief. Walking to the Queen’s tent where her teammates and coaches were waiting upon finishing nothing had quite sunk in.

A year ago, competing at the championships seemed like a long shot. On some days, even impossible. On this day, nothing felt impossible.

At the time, Steer finished tenth in the OUA and helped lift Queen’s women’s cross country team to its first OUA championship in 13 years.

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As a teenager, Steer was never a prodigy or at the top of the recruiting list, but was rather known for her all-around athletic ability.

Born into a skiing family, Steer’s two main sports growing up were Nordic skiing and running. Despite running throughout high school, Steer had never qualified for OFSAA or other major events.

“I was always that ‘on the fringe’ person,” Steer told The Journal of her running career.

When Steer made Queen’s cross country team in first year, her role was largely unchanged from her high school days. Through her first two years in the program, Steer wasn’t chosen to compete in a major race for Queen’s. 

She didn’t have any luck in her third year. After developing bursitis — an inflammation of the hip — in spring of her second year, Steer was subjected to spending the 2016 season on the sidelines. Living with teammates, Steer found the period equally difficult and motivating.

“My housemates were doing really well which was really motivating, but hard because [I] wanted to be with [my] friends,” Steer said.

As winter approached, Steer started to train on the elliptical to help limit the impact on her hip. She also took up water running, which involves strapping a flotation device around the waist and “running” in deep water. 

On days when the ARC was closed, Steer travelled down to the Kingston shoreline to get her training in. “That was really hard…I would sometimes go in the lake and it was super wavy,” she said.

As spring approached, Steer slowly progressed to running on land. With her fitness improving, she began to develop confidence.

“I broke 19 minutes [running five kilometres], and then 18:20. I was kind of stuck around 18:15 and my assistant coach paced me and we ran 17:55,” Steer said. “I was just focused on everything individually; I was focused on the time and not being injured.”

With the team’s baseline testing requiring her to run five kilometres in 18 minutes, Steer knew she was going to be in for a test. In late August, she ran her official time trial in 17:52. 

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Going into the OUA championships this fall, Steer was looking for a strong performance. Where she exactly finished had less of an importance.

“I went in without any expectations,” she said. “I’m not the type that gets neurotic over races — I get excited. It’s just an opportunity.”

After a steady start amongst a large pack of runners, Steer was able to break off from the group in the middle of the five-kilometre race. Going stride-for-stride with some of Ontario’s best, the fourth-year runner was oblivious to her position.

“I didn’t look behind me for a while and no one was there … then I started to panic. All I thought was, ‘don’t fall over and don’t get passed by six people,’” she recalled.

“Where she got the chutzpah to think she could do that is beyond me,” cross country head coach Steve Boyd said. “She came by us at four k[ilometers] and we were yelling at her … She just started laughing.”

“I still can’t believe it,” the coach added of Steer’s performance. 

When she crossed the finish line in tenth place, the race had yet to sink in.

“I finished and I was overwhelmed … I just thought, ‘What just happened?’” Steer said.

Since the race, Steer has been pressed by family and friends on how she pulled it off. While being able to give a comprehensive race breakdown, this question only makes her shrug.

“I have no idea [how I did it]. I really don’t know,” she said. “Things sort of come together when you’re not expecting it; it just worked out for me which I’m really grateful for.”

Steer will cap off her Queen’s career this weekend in Victoria, BC, where she’ll look to continue to make an impact at the U Sports Championships. Despite her recent success, she knows anything can happen.

“I hope to come top 20 but if I don’t … I just hope to have a really good race and know that there was nothing else I could have done,” Steer said.

Regardless of the result, Steer hopes her story serves as inspiration for people in a wide variety of situations.

“I hope it shows people that feel really mediocre that consistency and patience can bring something better than you thought it would.” 

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