Two weeks ago, Loyola runner Lindsey Brewis ran down the track at the Bryan Clay Invitational in Azusa, California. As she rounded the corner to finish the 5,000-meter race, Brewis expended every last ounce of energy she had. She pumped her fists, and her long braid wagged back and forth as she took each stride.
Brewis crossed the finish line in 16 minutes, 3.38 seconds, shaving more than seven seconds off her personal best. The time put her second on Loyola’s all-time record list.
Still, Brewis wants more.
“I want to break the school record in the 10K and 5K,” Brewis said.
And she believes she can do it.
Don’t let the petite and soft-spoken Brewis fool you. She’s a ferocious competitor.
Over the last two years, Brewis, a lightly recruited runner out of Dearborn, Michigan, who battled a slew of injuries in her first few seasons in college, has blossomed into one of the best long-distance runners in Loyola history. But how did she get to this point?
It started with a coach realizing her capabilities before she did.
Brewis will be honest. She was naive about running in high school.
“I just showed up to practice, ran and did what I was told,” Brewis said. “I didn’t realize that there was a plan of recovery days and workout days.”
Brewis, who called herself a “mediocre” runner in high school, wasn’t even sure she wanted to run in college. But she was attracted to Loyola for its individualized training programs and its academics. She also liked the family atmosphere of the women’s team.
When she came to college, Brewis thought she could handle the stresses of being a student-athlete. However, she quickly crumbled under the pressures of balancing running, academics, sleep and a social life.
And things only seemed to get worse.
Shortly after her first cross-country season finished, Brewis suffered a stress fracture in her foot after a teammate accidentally dropped a 10-pound plate on her.
When she was home for winter break, Brewis was at her lowest point. She called then-coach Jackie Kropp and told her she was done.
“I’m transferring,” Brewis told Kropp. “I’m not meant to be a D-I runner.”
The call completely blind-sided Kropp, who thought highly of Brewis. Kropp urged her to come back after break and meet.
“I came back and we sat down, and I remember just looking at her and feeling like I let her down,” Brewis said. “Because she had recruited me to be a D-I runner, and I said, ‘I’m not made for this. I need to leave.’
“And she said, ‘This is part of a process. You need to stay here and believe in yourself.’ And she was like, ‘I recruited you for a reason. I see the potential, and I want you to see it, too.’ ”
Though Kropp was replaced by Alan Peterson as the long-distance coach in 2016, her words stuck with Brewis.
Brewis started to take her conditioning more seriously. She worked closely with Peterson, who designed a program that lowered Brewis’ miles to prevent injuries.
“Alan changed her training and took time rebuilding her confidence, emphasizing one day at a time, less is more, we’ll use the bike, we’ll use the pool as much as we need to,” coach Bob Thurnhoffer said. “He never pushed it. Because if she can just stay healthy, she’s talented enough that her talent will shine.”
As Brewis’ workload decreased, her results improved. Still, she doubted herself.
“When I raced well, I always thought, ‘Oh, that was a fluke,’ like, ‘I can’t make that happen every time,’ ” Brewis said.
It wasn’t until April 2017 that Brewis realized her potential.
Every spring, Loyola takes its top runners to California to race in highly competitive meets. Thurnhoffer almost left Brewis off the list, but Peterson insisted she had earned the right to come along.
“We should take her,” Peterson said to Thurnhoffer. “I think she has a shot.”
Though Thurnhoffer was resistant, he allowed Brewis to come. It might’ve been the best thing he could’ve done for her.
Brewis finished 10th in the 5K with a time of 16:43.85. It was 15 seconds faster than her previous best.
“She ran a personal best, and then she never looked back after that,” Thurnhoffer said. “That was the moment that Lindsey became Lindsey. And then she’s just gotten better every race since pretty much.”
Roughly six months later, Brewis was named MVC Female Cross Country Athlete of the Year after she finished first in the conference championship meet. She defended her title last fall and finished first again with a time of 16:57.8, 10 seconds faster than the previous year.
Brewis now holds the Loyola record for the women’s indoor 3K race (9:25.62), and she’s second in the 5K races for indoor (16:18.40) and outdoor (16:08.38).
“She’s a huge vocal leader on the team, and in a more powerful sense, she’s become the poster child of, ‘Look, things don’t have to go perfectly,’ ” Thurnhoffer said. “It can be two of three years of struggling, but you can still find success, your dreams can still come true. And so that’s been an immense inspiration to her female peers.”
Brewis is at another crossroads. As she prepares to march across the stage at Gentile Arena next month to accept her MBA diploma, she’s not sure what’s next.
On one hand, she can put her education to good use — stay in Chicago and accept a job in supply-chain management. On the other, she could continue running.
“Alan tells me, ‘I don’t train you as hard as I could, you’re ceiling is still pretty high,’ ” Brewis said. “He thinks I have more potential and I haven’t peaked yet. So I don’t know if I want to quit yet.
“I never anticipated this. I’m so glad I stuck with it, best decision ever. Even a year ago, I thought, ‘Only a year left, and I’m done running forever.’ So to see another door opening potentially is really exciting. I just like to push myself and see how far I can go.”