By Othello Richards
For one BYU runner, the opportunity to compete on the university”s nationally-acclaimed distance team was an experience she should not have gotten.
Coming out of high school, Jaime Cottle of Howell, Mich., technically was not fast enough be a part of the nation”s top cross country team, according to BYU cross country coach Patrick Shane.
For a walk-on to be considered for the roster, she has to pass a fitness test by running one mile three times in 5:50, with an 800 meter jog between miles. According to Shane, there was no way Cottle would have come close to passing the test.
Cottle was out of shape. Cottle had been injured. But Shane said he found himself doing something he can”t believe he did – He allowed a non-recruited unproven athlete to join his already crowded team, and he didn”t know why.
Today, four years after their first meeting, Jaime Cottle is an All-American, and last weekend in Arizona she ran the fourth fastest 1500-meter race in the nation this outdoor track and field season.
At the end of her sophomore year in high school, Cottle was in a boating accident that nearly put an end to her running career. For six weeks she was confined to a wheel chair while her broken femur, five breaks in her pelvis and her dislocated hip healed. Cottle would have to spend the next year rehabbing her injuries as precious time passed.
Even though she still managed to achieve All-State honors for running track three years in high school, Cottle never ran cross country, yet she said she thought about trying out for the Cougar squad.
An unordinary meeting was scheduled between Cottle and Shane her freshman year, where Shane said to be polite he would watch her run. He had never done this with any other non-recruited athlete. They usually had to take his fitness test, and that”s how he weeded runners out.
Cottle said she brought her older sister along for moral support, and as she ran she had no idea what was going through Shane”s mind about her.
As he watched her, the only thing Shane said he could think about was how he was going to tell her she wasn”t good enough to make the team.
“I was trying to think of a way to tell her in a nice way, ”we appreciate your time and effort, but our team”s fairly large. This isn”t high school anymore and probably it would be better if you find something else to do,”” Shane said.
After Cottle”s run, Shane was ready to give her the opinion he had rehearsed repetitively in his head.
“I could not do it,” Shane said. “I could not say that. If you looked at her credentials, that is probably what I should have said, we already had a talented team.”
But Shane said to his disbelief, he found himself telling Cottle he was going to give her a chance, give her a locker, and give her the opportunity to be a Cougar.
Even after making the team, Shane said Cottle did nothing in her first cross country season that hinted she was going to be a great miler. According to him, she really struggled those first years.
Cottle slowly began to show signs of improvement when she ran the second fastest indoor 800-meters for the Cougars her sophomore year, but soon afterward a stress fracture in her foot eradicated her chance of continuing into the outdoor season.
One year later, Cottle was crowned the Mountain West Conference indoor 800-meter champion, and ran a season best 4:33.42 in the 1500-meter outdoors.
Things were looking promising for the once unproven athlete, but last February at Idaho State University”s Mountain States Invitational, Cottle”s decision to not run because of a cold disappointed Shane.
“I needed somebody who was going to step up to the plate and get the job done whether they felt like it or not. That”s basically what I told her,” Shane said.
After the talk, according to Shane, a transformation took place in this athlete. The following weeks, Cottle became “unstoppable.” She began to win races week after week.
At the indoor national championships in March, Cottle ran the first leg of the distance medley relay and passed the baton with BYU in the lead. The Cougars finished fourth overall and only a second away from a school record.
Last Saturday at the Sun Angel Classic in Arizona, Cottle earned a ticket back to the national championships with her 4:18.30 time in the 1500-meters. This time, the fastest time in the Mountain West Conference, earned her MWC track athlete of the week honors.
BYU has had a legacy of All-American distance runners, and Shane said Cottle is one of the best milers he”s ever had.
Cottle said the change occurred when she stopped worrying about racing and simply decided to run to the best of her ability.
“When it”s all over, I want to be able to tell myself that I did the best I could do,” Cottle said.”
Looking into the future, Shane said he is excited to see what she will do her last two seasons.
” My job as a coach is to facilitate the process of finding out just how good Jaime Cottle can be.”