GOLDEN, Colo. — The journey to success has been long and winding for Colorado School of Mines distance runner Zoe Baker.
"We saw early on that she was a little different in the way that she was wired and the way that she approached the sport of cross country and track and field," cross country head coach Chris Siemers said.
In a solitary sport of running tens of miles at a time, Baker learned to appreciate being taken out of her comfort zone.
"It's the fact that you have to choose to do something uncomfortably hard every single day, and by choosing to do that, you actually get rewarded," Baker said.
Putting herself in an uncomfortable position every day taught her to be a more structured student, as well as a more dedicated athlete. That's a trait that Siemers both admires and recruits.
"Distance running, it is really tough, it is brutal at times, and I think we get kids who are really disciplined in the classroom and I think it just translates over to the traits you need to be a really good distance runner," he said.
Baker said she applies the same method in the classroom. Baker graduated summa cum laude in May with dual Bachelor of Science degrees in computer science and applied mathematics and statistics. She was named the "outstanding graduating senior" in the department of applied mathematics and statistics, and served as a student researcher on a COVID-19 study to develop of an algorithm to help healthcare professionals efficiently identify high-risk patients.
"Obviously, you're trying to do things that haven't been done before and you're trying to make novel contributions," she said about her research. "So most of it is just persistence and even if you don't think you're making any sort of change or seeing anything, just continuing to trust that you're going to make a contribution at some point."
Between her studies and winning three RMAC championships, including the cross country title in 2020, the 3,000 meters (indoor) in 2020 and the 10,000 meters (outdoor) in 2021, Baker was a no-brainer nominee for the NCAA Woman of the Year. In fact, she is the first Mines student-athlete to make the top 30 in the history of the school. She credits her unique school for allowing women like her to chase their dreams.
"I think it's very hard to find any other team that will allow you to chase a million different goals at once, like chase being the best runner you can be, chasing being the best student and researcher you can be, and also going after different career opportunities. The fact that we have so many girls that really didn't have super stellar times in high school running in the 16's in college and breaking their old PRs by minutes at a time, while also getting an engineering degree, is super awesome."
Baker is a Longmont, CO native and graduated from Silver Creek High School. She was named CoSIDA Division II Academic All-America Team Member of the Year for Division II women's track and field/cross country for 2022, while also earning first-team honors in 2021 and second-team honors in 2020. Baker is a two-time NCAA Elite 90 Award recipient, presented to the student-athlete with the highest grade-point average competing at an NCAA championship finals site.
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