Racing into Cornell athletic history
Abrah Masterson ’17 didn’t consider herself successful in high school track, and she particularly disliked distance running. Not the pedigree you’d expect for a runner who won the 10,000 meter outdoor track championship, and six months later, the NCAA Division III Women’s Cross Country Championship.
Her cross country championship earned her a place in Cornell history as the Rams’ most decorated All-American. She topped off her stellar 2015 by being named Division III Women’s Cross Country Scholar Athlete of the Year. And she has another year to go.
She attributes her national success to her high school coach and to the support and encouragement she has found at Cornell.
“Crossing the finish line as a champion was a feeling I will never be able to describe.”
Abrah Masterson ’17
“Because of the amazing environment offered to me by the Cornell community, my teammates, and my outstanding coach Dan Schofer, I have made significant strides as a distance athlete,” she says.
“Abrah is a fantastic competitor,” says Schofer, Cornell’s head cross country and track and field coach. “She attacks each competition with confidence and joy. She also places team above self—and that mentality is shared by her teammates.”
While distance running may seem the most individual of sports, Schofer stresses that teamwork is a major reason for Cornell’s uccess in cross country. “That mindset is what allowed us to win the Midwest Conference Championship this fall.”
Also key to the Rams’ championship was Masterson’s teammate and fellow All-American, Sam Martinez ’16, whose 13th-place finish in the national championships earned her All-American honors for the second time. Martinez finished 19th in 2014. Between them, Martinez and Masterson have won nine All-American awards.
“Abrah and Sam have improved dramatically as runners since arriving at Cornell,” Schofer says. “They have pushed each other a great deal, and we are fortunate to have two tremendous runners and team leaders within our program.”
With her national 6K title in cross country, Masterson joined wrestling legend Lowell Lange (three-time champion, 1947, 49-50) and track star Pauline Henry (two-time champion, 1983-84) as Cornell’s only student-athletes to claim multiple NCAA championships in a career.
“I was not very successful in high school track,” Masterson says. “I went to state as part of a relay team when I was a sophomore and as a pole vaulter as a senior. I was anti-long distance then.
“The idea of being a champion is something I couldn’t grasp. Instead, I woke up every day wanting to push myself as far as I could. I started believing my ultimate dream was achievable when I realized that being a champion is really a reflection of my amazing family, teammates, and coaches, and the hard work I was willing to put in. Crossing the finish line as a champion was a feeling I will never be able to describe.”
She certainly put in the work. “Abrah came to Cornell to pursue academics and athletics,” Schofer says. “She takes both areas very seriously. There’s no doubt that the skills required for successful distance running—discipline, long-term focus, ability to handle discomfort, and so on—also carry over into academics, as well as the other parts of a person’s life.”
That’s obviously true for Masterson, whose performance in the classroom contributed to her recognition as a member of the 2015 Capital One Academic All-America Third Team for women’s cross country and track and field.
“Juggling academics and athletics has been relatively easy for me,” says Masterson, who carries a 3.65 GPA while pursuing a double major in French and biochemistry and molecular biology. “I owe a lot of this to Cornell’s unique One Course At A Time curriculum. While the courses change, each day follows the same routine. Since my schedule is so consistent, I am able to train, rest, study, and sleep at the same times every day. The block program makes it easy to be a dedicated and successful student-athlete.”
While her commitments to academics and athletics are fierce, Masterson is typical of many Cornell students who find time to be deeply involved in campus activities. She’s involved in the Student Athlete Advisory Committee, a female student-athlete leadership group called ACTION, the Cornell Chemistry Club, the Cornell Summer Research Institute, and she serves as a French tutor and captain on the cross country and track and field teams.
Role models? Like her own career, they encompass academics and athletics.
“I aspire to be as wise and insightful as Professors Craig Tepper (biology) and Charles Liberko (chemistry), as passionate as President (Jonathan) Brand, and as driven and dedicated as Coach Schofer,” she says.
While Masterson has another year of college, she’s already setting goals for her post-Cornell career.
“I want to go to medical school,” she says. “And then pursue a career as a pediatric surgeon serving underprivileged people in a French-speaking country.”
Given her track record, it’s safe to assume she’ll accomplish those things too.
See video of Masterson interviewed after the NCAA Cross Country championship.