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Niamh Kenney ’22: through work and nails to victory

Although Niamh Kenney ’22 has been running since middle school, she was actually a soccer kid growing up. “I was always running in middle school… it was something I enjoyed,” Kenney told The Brandeis Hoot in an interview. Being competitive as a kid also helped Kenney get to where she is today. 

“I never thought I would be running in college, I thought I was going to play soccer,” Kenney continued. Though she did track for all four years of high school, which caused her to be recruited for track at Brandeis. “I was getting recruited for both soccer and track,” said Kenney. However she really loved the team environment in cross country in general. 

“With running in general your only judge is a stop watch… it is a you thing, nothing can be blamed on anyone else,” continued Kenney. “I knew stuff I could work on to get better as an athlete … With running there’s a lot of grit, you either have it or you don’t, [and] I dont have the mental block, I can push myself.” 

Teammate Juliette Intrieri ’23 added, “Niamh [Kenney] is one of the most devoted and toughest runners I know.” 

When Kenney came on the recruitment trip to Brandeis she found the coaches to be “so nice.” “People always say that you should be able to see yourself at the school that you are going to … and I could so see myself here,” said Kenney, “I felt very safe.” An additional benefit of Brandeis is that it is close to home for Kenney. 

On the team, Kenney hopes to make a positive impact and have her teammates look at her and see her as a positive role model. “I am an older sister in my family, so I hope they look up to me and can come to me with advice,” Kenney told The Hoot. “If they ever need anything they know I will be there for them,” she emphasized. In general, Kenney is a very positive person; Kenney has made her good humor known from the beginning. “I was scared of Niamh [Kenney] coming into freshman year because she sent everyone an email that said this is how you pronounce my name, there will be a quiz,” teammate Erika Karin ’22 said. It is pronounced Knee-ev, by the way. “Ye” added Lizzy Reynolds ’24.

Kenney is a distance runner; for Cross Country she runs the 5K and 6K, while for indoor Track she runs the 3K as well as anchoring the distance medley relay. During the outdoor Track season, she runs the 5K. But when it came to picking a favorite, Kenney was not sure; “I am long distance so I love it all,” though she did highlight relays as being particularly fun. 

Before her meets, Kenney likes to get up early to get everything set up, including ribbons she wears, which say “run with heart.” Kenney says that she, like most stereotypical runners, eats pasta, but she also cannot go without her coffee. Then right before meets, “I listen to my energy playlist which is full of hip hop and R&B.” 

A particular ritual for Kenney in particular is her nails: “I have to get my nails done.” The nails are a charm for the races she has, “if I run a bad race, I will not get the same color,” said Kenney. She even had a period of time where she had a set of nails on for around two months, since she was running so well and did not want to change them. “She always has very cool nails,” added Intrieri. 

Kenney’s Brandeis journey was full of growth. Her freshman year was a little tough in terms of settling in. The adjustment from high school was not as smooth as she had hoped, however as with any obstacle, Kenney pushed through it. “I was lucky enough to have two girls, Emily [Bryon ’19] and Julia [Bryson ’19] captains at the time, I really got close with them,” said Kenney. She continued to train with them during her career at Brandeis even past their graduation. 

“I am thankful I was a part of a team,” said Kenney, “it made it easy to adapt to routine.” The team went to the dinning hall together and studied together; “I loved every minute of it.” Routine was much needed for Kenney, being a psychology major on the pre-med track. 

Her sophomore year Kenney and the team went to nationals, where Kenney ran and hoped to do the best she could. At NCAAs, Kenney placed 81st with a time of 22:25 in the 6K, while at the UAAs she finished 19th with a time of 22:57. 

Kenney described her junior year as quite disappointing, she said she did okay at the Regional competitions for Cross Country, however she did not qualify for nationals. However she was able to bounce back during the indoor Track season; she qualified for nationals for the 3K. However Kenney did not get to compete because the national championships were canceled because of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

With the cancellation of the seasons, Kenney decided to take a gap year after her junior year. “It was a great decision but the hardest thing I had to do,” Kenney told The Hoot. She worked 40 to 50 hours a week while also training. The team was going to school and training together, while Kenney had to do it all by herself; “Running by yourself is hard… lucky I have a really great taste in music,” joked Kenney. 

Kenney went into her senior year with a goal in mind: she wanted to make nationals. “I ran very hard, was very dedicated… [going to] those 9:30 [a.m.] practices on Saturday and Sunday mornings.” The hard work she put in paid off. “Regionals were great, everyone was dressed up in blue and white stripes,” said Kenney. The team made it to nationals, and got to go to Kentucky as a team; “it was a surreal movement.” From the very beginning of the season Kenney knew that they were going to go. 

Going into the Indoor season, Kenney was disappointed since she got COVID-19, “I didn’t get enough workouts or run enough meets.” In general “when I get sick it sets me back,” Kenney explained, however Kenney continued to improve with every meet. The distance medley relay, consisting of Kenney, Natalie Hattan ’22, Liz Korn ’24 and Victoria Morrongiello ’23, performed particularly well, placing third at the UAAs with a time of 12:15.62. 

Right now, Kenney is looking forward to running the 5K in the outdoor season. “My focus is to do well, I’ve broken 18 [minutes] and am hoping to do that again.” However Kenney hasn’t run it since 2019, so she has her work cut out for her. 

Kenney’s favorite part of being on a team is definitely the people on it. “Running is cool and fun but you will not be able to do those runs without the people pushing you along… Some days I don’t feel like running but when you come down to practice the people push you to be better.” The overall team environment and chemistry is so great according to Kenney, “we have great people.” “This team is everything and I am so thankful to Sinead [Evans], Nick [Athanasopoulos] and Luci [Ford], they do everything for us and they keep everyone sane…they are the best coaches I’ve ever had,” added Kenney. 

The people are also what Kenney will miss the most after graduation. “ I will miss the people so much. During my gap year I came to Brandeis because I missed the people so much. I am so grateful that I have them,” said Kenney. Of course, competing is something Kenney will miss too. “The most important thing too, I am going to miss Gosman… Interacting with people there,” added Kenney. 

After she graduates in May, Kenney is planning to travel before applying to nursing school in the fall; she’s hoping to get into an accelerated program to become a Pediatric Nurse Practitioner. In terms of running, Kenney is considering running marathons or joining a running club. 

When asked what advice she would give herself five years ago, Kenney emphasized how important it is to “enjoy every moment and be grateful for the little things,” such as the people you have around. “Don’t waste your energy on stuff that doesn’t matter in the long run.” She also added that her younger self was very focused on the future, so she wishes she was more present in the now. 

To first years on the team, Kenney suggests to “come in with a purpose, if you want something, go get it, don’t let anything stop you.” “If you really want something, in school, sports, or anything else, just put your best foot forward,” said Kenney. However, it is also important to take the time to enjoy the little things in life, and remember that “Any L that we take, it’s not an L it’s a lesson,” added Kenney. 

Overall, Kenney is extremely grateful for couches, family and friends, who have helped her throughout college and life in general. “I don’t think I’d be where I am without any of them or doing the things I want,” she concluded. 

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