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Wounded, Red-Shirt, Spartan Gets Right Back on Track

Jess Butler Andy Meng/Sports Information

Jess Butler Andy Meng/Sports Information

Cross country runner Jess Butler has dealt with her fair share of adversities already in her life.

Besides dealing with the pressures of currently being a student athlete, the sophomore from Rochester, NY has lived in five different states and battled back from an injury which left her sidelined for a majority of her freshman year.

However, Butler has shown her resilience on the course and off.

Prior to settling down in Florida during middle school, Butler had moved from her home state of New York to Virginia, Texas and Ohio.

She dismissed any possible problems caused by the typically stressful event of moving.

“I like moving to different places, so it was fine,” Butler said.

Once in Florida, Butler started her career as a runner.

“I guess I just wanted to run,” Butler said. “My mom used to run, [so] I started as soon as I got into middle school.”

She continued competing through high school, where she attended St. Thomas Aquinas High School for all but her freshman year.

It was during this time, she believes, that she reached her greatest achievement.

“My biggest accomplishment was probably still in high school- winning states, and then going to Nike Nationals… I got 10th but I won my heat, so it was a big thing,” said Butler.

Though she did not win the entire competition, she enjoyed seeing herself on the big screen and having people cheer her on.

Butler then ended up at The University of Tampa. She attributed her choice of attending UT to Jarrett Slaven, the cross country coach.

“Coach Slaven is like the best coach. I love Coach Slaven,” Butler said. “After I met him, I knew I wanted to come here.”

Slaven’s feelings seem to be mutual, as the coach only had positive things to say about his star runner.

“She’s a stable, consistent runner.… I couldn’t ask for anybody easier to coach because she’s so driven and motivated,” he said.

A perfect example of her motivation occurred in her freshman year when she suffered an injury after the first week of competition.

“When I was running cross country, I ran the first race; and then a week later, something happened in my leg, but I didn’t know what it was…I figured that if it was a stress fracture, I wouldn’t be able to run, but I still ran on it,” Butler said.

It turned out to be exactly that–a stress fracture in her hip.

While Butler recovered from that injury just by running through it, another injury flared up in response.

Her doctor found two tumors caused by the friction on her bones during the original injury. Butler’s season was over almost before it even began.

“After that, it was basically sitting on the couch the whole winter break,” Butler said. “I took like a year off from racing and months off from running.”

She did not give up, though. She built up her strength over summer.

First, she began running for five minutes a day. By the end of summer, she was running an estimated total of 80 miles a week.

“When she came back, just by looking at her, I knew she was ready,” Coach Slaven said.
Even better for Butler, her freshman year of athletics was not a complete wash.

“If I ran another race, I wouldn’t have been able to red-shirt,” she said.

Butler was red-shirted last year, which technically makes her a freshman in athletic standards, meaning she is eligible to return for a 5th year of competition.

She is certain she will choose to return for that 5th year, simply because she “likes running just that much.”

The hip injury has not stopped Butler from being a top notch athlete at the collegiate level.

In late September, amidst leading the team to a first place finish at Pre-Nationals in Evansville, Ind., Butler was named the Sunshine State Conference Female Runner of the Week.

The women’s team is now ranked number nine nationally, moving up four spots after their Pre-National win.

Butler believes the women’s team may have surprised some people.

“I think we’re doing really good. I guess people thought that we weren’t going to be as ranked because we lost [valuable teammates] but… our team got stronger with the girls we have,” Butler said.

An environmental science major, Butler would like a career working around animals if she doesn’t take cross country to the next level.

She admits having spent too little time focusing on schoolwork last year, but she is striving to become a better student.

“I’m trying harder this year to study more because I want to get better grades,” said Butler. “Last year with everything that happened, like getting hurt and just all my classes that I chose, it was just really hard to keep up with everything.”

As for the rest of the cross country season, Butler is certain the team can be successful again when they return to the same course in Evansville for Nationals.

“You ran it once before so you know you can do better on the second time,” Butler said.

Daniel can be reached at dfeingold@ut.edu.

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