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Pair of former CCAA champions compete at Worlds in China

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 Pair of former CCAA champions compete at Worlds in China

March 30, 2015 – The 41st IAAF World Cross Country Championships were held over the weekend with two former Canadian Collegiate Athletic Association women’s champions competing at the event in China.

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Former Grande Prairie Regional College runners Mirelle Martens and Fiona Benson represented Canada. Martens, the 2014 CCAA Women’s Champion, placed 94th in the Junior Women’s race, while Benson, the 2010 CCAA Women’s Champion, finished 68th in the Senior Women’s event.

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GPRC Wolves co-coach Bill Corcoran, who also serves as the CCAA’s Cross-Country Running National Convenor, is proud of his former student-athletes.

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“I’ve been following World Cross since I was 15 and as an athlete, I never even got remotely close to qualifying for Worlds,” said Corcoran. “Now, 35 plus years later, I can live vicariously through these two young ladies.”

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It’s the first time two former CCAA champions are on the National team. And both happen to come from the small College (3,900 enrolled students) from Grande Prairie, AB.

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“It’s really, really cool to think that two kids who grew up in the middle of nowhere have the chance to mix it up with the world’s best,” said Corcoran.

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Sherbrooke’s Jules Burnotte, who placed fourth at the 2014 CCAA Cross-Country Running National Championships, also represented Canada at the event in the Junior Men’s race. He placed 112th. Athletics Canada’s junior teams (Under 20) consist of the best high school, CIS, CCAA, and NCAA runners.

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Each year in late November, Canada selects men’s and women’s national teams from the top finishers at the Athletics Canada Cross Country Running Championships. Up to six athletes are selected for each team. Martens qualified based on her third-place finish in the Junior Women’s race.

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It’s been a dream season for Martens, who is relatively new to the sport. She started competing part-time in the spring of 2013 and this was her first full season of cross-country. Her work ethic, according to Corcoran, is off the charts.

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In addition to doing all the physical training required to be a champion, the 2014 CCAA All-Canadian pays close attention to other important ancillary activities like nutrition, sleep, sports psychology, etc.

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“She is focused on being the best student-athlete and person that she can be,” said Corcoran. “She is by far the most coachable athlete I’ve ever had the pleasure to work with.”

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Gaining international experience at this young age is crucial in Martens’ development, according to Corcoran. “When you get the chance to go head-to-head with the best runners in the world, future local and domestic competitions become far less intimidating,” he said.

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Unfortunately for Grande Prairie, Martens won’t be returning to their campus next fall. The 19-year-old has accepted a full athletic scholarship at West Virginia University, beginning this September.

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“Knowing that we have provided opportunities for our athletes to train and compete and then getting them to the start line and seeing them excel is very rewarding,” said Rick Scott, co-coach of the Grande Prairie Wolves.

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Meanwhile, Benson has established herself over the past four seasons as one of the dominant female distance runners in the CIS in both track and cross-country. At the recent 2015 CIS Indoor Track Championships, she won gold in the 1500, silver in the 3000, and two bronze as part of Trinity Western’s 4 x 800 and 4 x 400 teams.

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Last fall, Benson placed 7th in the Athletics Canada Cross Country Running Championships to qualify for the national team.

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“I’ve met maybe five people in my life who I’ve considered to be truly exceptional human beings; Fiona is one of them,” said Corcoran. “She is an accomplished athlete, scholar, humanitarian, and, most importantly, a really nice person.”

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When Benson, now 22, came to Grande Prairie in the fall of 2010, her initial goal was to make the team and go to Nationals in Fredericton, NB, because at the time, she had never even been on an airplane.

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She clearly overshot that goal and her victory at CCAA Nationals propelled her to represent Canada at the NACAC Championships in Tobago in February 2011 and the IAAF World Championships in Spain in March of 2011.

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“We’re tremendously proud of the accomplishments of our athletes,” said Corcoran. “A tiny northern school in the middle of nowhere is definitely not the ideal place to train cross-country running athletes for many reasons.”

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But support from GPRC and the local community has helped immensely according to Corcoran.

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“The legendary coach Arthur Lydiard once said, ‘Champions are born in every neighborhood’; these two young ladies are proof of that observation.”

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The CCAA is a national sport organization enriching the academic experiences of student-athletes through intercollegiate sport.

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