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Patrick Donnelly: from freshman skeptic to senior star

Senior Patrick Donnelly continued his cross-country training independently this school year since Gonzaga had no organized sports. He traveled to Huntsville, Alabama for cross-country nationals this past November. (Photo submitted by Patrick Donnelly)
By Jack Beall—

With the cross-country season winding down in mid-November of 2020, Patrick Donnelly, a senior runner at Gonzaga, traveled to Huntsville, Alabama for cross-country nationals. Donnelly flew down on Thursday night in preparation for the race on Saturday. Standing next to some of America’s best high school runners, Donnelly knew he needed to run an exceptional race if he had wanted to show that he belonged among the best. That is exactly what he did. 

Donnelly set a Washington, D.C. and Gonzaga record for the 5k with a stunning 14:54. To put that into perspective, that is a 4:48 mile pace for 3.1 miles. Although he was ecstatic about his accomplishment, Donnelly was just 3.11 seconds away from qualifying as a cross-country All-American, which would have meant he was a top-20 runner in the nation. For motivation, he wrote 3.11 on a sticky note and placed it above his bed, so it is the first thing he saw in the morning and last at night. Donnelly is determined to become a track All-American later this year in his track season. 

Despite his recent success, Donnelly has not always been a star. In fact, he was hesitant to even join the cross-country team as a freshman; his dad had to convince him. After quickly excelling to varsity, Donnelly knew he made the right decision. 

During his freshman year, Donnelly ran well. 

“[It was not] until the end of my sophomore year at the meet of champions that I felt I really belonged with the best runners in the area,” he admitted. 

Many people tend to think of running as something that one is either is good or bad. However, Donnelly explained the amount of training that goes into the sport. He spends much of his time running, strengthening his legs, conditioning his core and trying to stick to an acceptable diet. Donnelly made huge jumps every summer, running hundreds of miles. This most recent summer he felt may have been his largest improvement, dropping his times significantly. 

“I ran close to 700 miles. Every day I would wake up early and run; then I would do core workouts,” Donnelly said. 

Donnelly’s improvements and training led him to become one of the best runners in the country ranking 13th in the mile.  Donnelly learned a lot from running such as excellent time management and discipline. He said he is very happy that he decided to try out for the team as a freshman. 

“In terms of running, I would say my school record and having the opportunity to run at a Division 1 school, but I am most proud of the discipline and life lessons that I have learned through the sport,” Donnelly said when discussing what accomplishment he was most proud of. 

Patrick Donnelly, senior, holds a Washington, D.C. and Gonzaga record for the 5k with a stunning 14:54. He will be running next year for Florida State University. (Photo submitted from Patrick Donnelly)

Donnelly’s journey will not end in high school like many athletes. At the beginning of his junior year, colleges started to reach out asking him to run and offering him a spot on their cross-country and track teams. By the summer between his junior and senior years, Donnelly had his heart set on Wake Forest; however, the pandemic disabled them from offering him a scholarship on the team. 

“I was upset, but I understood that they did not have the money,” Donnelly said. 

A short time later, Florida State reached out, offering him a scholarship. Donnelly recently committed to FSU, and he looks forward to running as a Seminole for the next four years. Before departing, Donnelly wishes to set the Gonzaga school records for the 1-mile and 2-mile races.

“I know it will be tough; those are some low times, but I hope I can continue to run well,” he said.

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  • C

    Carol CorganFeb 23, 2021 at 3:39 pm

    Jack–NICE story on Patrick. We all wish such a terrific scholar athlete well. I know I am honored to have had him as a student.

  • J

    John AusemaFeb 23, 2021 at 12:18 pm

    Thanks for sharing Patrick’s story!

  • P

    Pam ValeirasFeb 23, 2021 at 11:39 am

    Loved reading this inspiring story about Patrick. Well written! Great human-interest story. Proves that hard work and dedication truly pays off. It should be a must-read for freshmen who are often hesitant to give things a try. Congratulations and best of luck at FSU to Patrick!