The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

Iowa cross country senior distance runners Amber Aesoph, Brooke McKee, Abby Ryon reflect on team bond, consider fifth year of eligibility.

The trio is exploring taking its COVID-19 year of NCAA eligibility.
Theodore Retsinas
Iowa’s Brooke McKee runs during the Hawkeye invite at Ashton Cross-Country Course in Iowa City, on Friday, Sep. 1, 2023. The Iowa men’s team won the Invite and the women came in second.

Nearly four years ago, Iowa distance runners Amber Aesoph, Brooke McKee, and Abby Ryon were prospective first-years excited to join the Iowa cross country and track and field program, despite the COVID-19 pandemic. Now the trio of seniors is exploring the opportunity of using their fifth year of eligibility together.

The current UI fourth-year class began their collegiate careers amid the pandemic. Because the 2020-21 cross country season was canceled, college athletes — the Iowa runners included — were given an additional year of eligibility to compete.

Despite the suffering the pandemic caused, Aesoph called it a “blessing in disguise” for college athletes.

Related: Iowa football right tackle Gennings Dunker commands presence on and off field.

“I think it helped us grow a lot,” Aesoph said. “In so many ways, we had things taken away from us. In other ways, we had time to slowly get into the new routine of meeting everybody and adjusting to training.”

McKee took the time taken away from competitive running to do some soul-searching and reconnection with the sport she grew up with.

“I was coming back from an injury, so it gave me a lot of time to internalize that and be in the moment more,” she said. “I was also able to rediscover why I loved running in the first place.”

And because the Hawkeye women have bonded together through such unique circumstances, they believe their team culture has improved as a result. 

“I love that we have all grown up together,” McKee said. “I think [the COVID-19 pandemic] helped us in the long run by slowing down the first year of training so we were able to build a solid foundation.”

And that bond the fourth years developed four years ago has only strengthened with time, even beyond just their teammates. 

Ryon remembers the sense of community she felt from the moment she stepped foot on campus. 

“You feel so supported with the different staff we have here,” Ryon said. “Everybody here is just so welcoming and kind. They truly make it feel like home.”

And McKee holds a similar perspective, calling the UI home. 

Her story began upon following her older sister, former Iowa distance runner Jessica McKee, to Iowa but will end with McKee satisfied having created lasting relationships of her own with the university and the people involved. 

“Initially, Iowa felt like home to me because my sister was here,” McKee said. “But while I started coming here with a member of my family, the girls slowly became family as well.”

Throughout their years of training together, the trio have taken away many fond memories that include traveling, team meals, and watching each other succeed. 

But the memories might not stop here.

Aesoph, McKee, and Ryon are exploring the opportunity of utilizing their fifth year of eligibility to return for the 2024-25 season.

Aesoph finds a fifth year would bring potential of even more improvement on the course. She knows it’s time to be confident in herself and trust the training she has pushed through in the last four years. 

“Coming into college, I didn’t have the highest expectations for myself,” Aseoph said. “I know [Iowa distance coach Randy Hasenbank’s] expectations were always higher than what I was holding myself to. I think that’s where it has made the shift. At some point you have to take it over for yourself.”

McKee finds value in challenging herself mentally but also relying upon her training as a Hawkeye to potentially carry her through another year.

“After four years of solid training, you’re going to be stronger than ever,” McKee said. 

Ryon is just as hopeful of pursuing another year competing with the Black and Gold, because the last four years of spending time with her teammates have made her want more.

“Having a fifth year is that extra element of choosing to stay here to see what more I can accomplish and what the team can accomplish,” said Ryon. “More importantly, it’s just to be a part of this team for an extra bit of time.”

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About the Contributors
Mia Boulton
Mia Boulton, Sports Reporter
Mia Boulton is a freshman at the University of Iowa majoring in Journalism & Mass Communication, as well as exploring a possible double major in Sports Media. She works at the Daily Iowan as a sports reporter. Outside of the Daily Iowan, Mia has been a photographer for her hometown newspaper, The Record.
Theodore Retsinas
Theodore Retsinas, Photojournalist
Theodore Retsinas is a freshman at the University of Iowa studying Neuroscience.