Hannah Zydanowicz ’15

HannahIn just two seasons, junior Hannah Zydanowicz has become the most accomplished runner in RWU Women’s Cross Country history. With numerous races won, school records broken, and two bids to the NCAA Championships, Hannah has set her mark on the program and has put the New England Region on notice. Surprisingly, Hannah almost didn’t run cross country for RWU at all.

Arriving at RWU in 2011 as a soccer recruit, Hannah played in ten games on the Women’s Soccer team her freshman year, primarily as a reserve defender, helping the Hawks win their second straight Commonwealth Coast Conference Championship. Despite her accomplishments on the pitch, her love for soccer began to wane: “When I came to RWU I never thought that I would give up soccer, but I was planning on running track. During the season however, I started to realize that I no longer loved soccer as much as I used to – but I still didn’t consider giving it up.”

In the spring, Hannah joined the Track & Field team where she made her presence felt from day one. In her first meet she broke the school record in the 1500 meter run by nine seconds; and, by the end of the season, she held school records in four different events. Not bad for a runner in her first season! Hannah began to reconsider her athletic focus: “It wasn’t until halfway through the track season that I started to think about switching to cross country. It was in part due to how much I loved the team and the realization that I truly loved running more than anything else. It was what I looked forward to every day.”

One day after a track practice, Hannah approached Cross Country Head Coach Sean Livingston about the possibility of running with the team in the fall. He was very enthusiastic about the prospect: “When she told me she was going to run cross country in the fall, I thought to myself that the sky is the limit for this one!”

Yet the question remained, how would Hannah make the transition from mid-distance to distance running, not to mention giving up soccer – the sport she had put so much time and effort into from an early age? She explains her dilemma at the time: “It was one of the hardest, but best decisions, I’ve ever made. It meant that I was giving up over 12 years of hard work and passion that I put into soccer, but I’ve never regretted my decision.”

Her choice proved to be a smart one. Not only did Hannah adapt well, she finished the season with the best individual performance in team history! She broke the 10-year old 5K school record in addition to breaking the six-year old 6K school record three separate times in the year. She was named the CCC Runner of the Year and CCC Rookie of the Year, after winning the CCC Championship meet. In addition, Hannah earned All-New England Honors by placing 15th in the New England Championships – the best individual finish in school history. As a result, she became the first RWU Cross Country runner ever – male or female – to qualify for the NCAA Championships, placing 65th out of 275 runners. The following spring, she broke school records in the 3K, 5K and 1-Mile in Track & Field, while qualifying for both the New England Championships and ECAC Championships. Her many accomplishments led her to being named the 2013 Roger Williams University Female Athlete of the Year.

What did Hannah do for an encore this year? On top of setting school records in the 6K again, Hannah won four of the six races in which she competed, including the CCC Championship, where she was named CCC Runner of the Year for the second straight year. She qualified for the NCAA Championships after finishing second at the New England Championships – the best finish by an RWU runner in the regional championships. She then placed 25th at NCAAs, becoming the first Women’s Cross Country All-American in Roger Williams’ history!

Hannah is the first to tell you that she never expected this level of success in cross country: “I never thought of myself as fast or good enough. I was always the slow one in high school. I know I’m not a talented runner; my success only comes from my work ethic.”

Coach Livingston agrees with Hannah’s self-assessment: “In order to be an above average runner, one needs a combination of many things, but mainly talent and drive. She has a fair amount of talent, no doubt about that. But, it’s her willingness to do whatever it takes to keep improving that impresses me the most. Hannah’s work ethic – compared to all of the athletes I have ever coached – is unmatched. She not only talks about wanting to achieve big things, but – most importantly – she leads the lifestyle and does all of the little things that it takes to give herself a chance to actually make it happen.”

Though she’s accomplished so much, Hannah’s humble demeanor keeps her from losing focus on her goals: “I’m just going to keep working harder to see where it can take me. All I want is to be able to say that I’ve done my best at the end of each season.”

Hannah doesn’t plan on hanging up her cleats after college. Her goal is to run for a club in Boston and then progress to longer endurance races, marathons, ultra marathons and even triathlons. As the saying goes, for Hannah, it’s not about the destination, it’s about the journey: “I just want to travel around and run in all the beautiful places that I can, because that’s the fun in running, seeing where my legs can take me.”