From the first time Lindsey Stallworth stepped on ETSU’s campus, she knew she was ready to be a Buccaneer.
Stallworth, a red-shirt junior distance runner from Knoxville, has had some ups and downs over her career, but with the help of her teammates and coaches, she has been able to overcome adversity. It was that same group of people that helped make her college choice an easy one.
“I remember coming on my visit and there were so many people on the team that came out to say hello and introduce themselves to me,” said Stallworth, a nutrition major who has considered working with student-athletes after her positive experiences at ETSU following graduation. “I got to witness all their interactions and I felt so comfortable. I knew these were people I wanted as my teammates and friends.”
Stallworth remembered the words her high school coach posed to her, ‘Go where you are going to be happy and somewhere you will be the most successful.’ After talking to Coach Watts and Coach Layne, Stallworth was ready to make her decision.
“After my visit and talking to the coaches it was pretty clear that ETSU was the place I needed to be,” said Stallworth. “Seeing the family atmosphere that was created made it an easy decision for me. I was really excited about it.”
There was already a connection built with Stallworth’s high school coach and ETSU. Watts coached Patrick Gildea as a distance runner at Tennessee, so when Gildea told Watts about Stallworth he knew he had to take a look.
“Coach Gildea started talking to me about Lindsey late in her junior year or early fall,” Watts said. “I remember going to see her run several times, including when she won the Regional Cross Country Championship. I knew how good she was because she had a strong time on a tough course, so we brought Lindsey and her family on campus for a visit. It was a normal recruiting process, and after myself and Coach Layne had conversations with both Lindsey and her parents, she was ready to commit to ETSU.”
Without the support of Gildea, Stallworth may not have become a student-athlete at the collegiate level.
“Coach Gildea played a huge part in my success,” said Stallworth. “He was also motivating me and inspired me to run collegiately.”
Flashback 10 or so years, which is when Stallworth got into running. Even though she played other sports, it was running she loved the most.
“Running is something I’ve always liked to do. Going back to elementary school, I always enjoyed gym class and getting a rush whenever we got to do anything running related,” said Stallworth. “I tried a lot of different sports to see which one I liked the most, and my favorite part in all of them was the running. I knew that was the sign I wanted to be a runner.”
Running is also a part of Stallworth’s family.
“I remember when I was younger my mom did a lot of running and my dad would go with her,” said Stallworth. “They would try to get us to go with them and we were like ‘no.’ But something about them running stuck with me and I enjoyed doing it.”
After running track in seventh grade, Stallworth competed in her first cross country race a year later. By the time she got to high school at Knoxville West, Stallworth knew it was something she really wanted to do. Despite the love of running, continuing her career at the collegiate level didn’t come about until the end of her junior year.
“I didn’t start thinking about it until one of my teammates was looking at colleges,” Stallworth said. “It wasn’t seriously on my radar until the end of my junior year and beginning of my senior year. I didn’t know how the process worked. I wasn’t following collegiate running and didn’t know who the major runners were. It was all very new to think about at the time but I was very excited about it.”
With other schools in the mix such as Appalachian State, Chattanooga and a few others, Stallworth fell in love with the Blue and Gold. The Knoxville native quickly made an impact during her freshman cross country season as she earned all-Southern Conference and all-freshman team honors after finishing 12th at the conference meet with a time of 17:36.10 – a mark that would stand as her collegiate best until earlier this season.
Following her stellar freshman cross country campaign, which resulted with a 25th-place mark at the NCAA South Regional meet in Tuscaloosa, Stallworth’s season abruptly came to an end. Over winter break, Stallworth tore her left soleus muscle, forcing her to miss the both the indoor and outdoor track and field seasons.
This would mark the first of two road blocks for Stallworth over the next couple of years at ETSU. Little did she know, the injury in the winter of 2017 would come back and help pave the path to a smoother recovery two years later.
After placing fifth at the 2018 SoCon Cross Country Championships and earning first team all-conference honors, the stage was set for Stallworth to contend for the individual title in 2019. This would be a special year as it marked the first time ETSU would host the SoCon Championship with it being held Homecoming Weekend (Nov. 2) at Pine Oaks Golf Course in Johnson City.
Unfortunately, for Stallworth, she was forced to be a spectator as she suffered a fractured fifth metatarsal during preseason training earlier that summer.
“I was on a training run and there was a pot hole in the road. I stepped in it and rolled my ankle,” said Stallworth. “At first, I thought I just rolled my ankle and told myself ‘I was fine.’ But after running 10 meters I knew it was serious.”
Having already spent time in the training room her freshman season, Stallworth knew what to expect the second time around and put a positive spin on the situation.
“I can remember sitting in the x-ray room, the physician came out and the first thing he said ‘It’s broken,’” said Stallworth. “I was really happy he did that and was upfront with everything. I can then remember thinking in my head word-for-word, ‘I am making the executive decision to be positive, to take the best out of this situation and handle it better.’ I reflected back to my soleus injury my freshman year and then sitting there with my foot injury, and I knew that past experience was going to benefit me mentally. I was determined to do better this time. I was going to handle it better and told myself that ‘I would come back better because I have been here before.”
Keeping a positive attitude paid off.
“It was really a good time to set other goals,” said Stallworth. “Since I couldn’t compete, I was determined to be the best teammate and help them succeed. They were there for me during both of my rehabs, so I had to return the favor. I really liked the opportunity to see them run at conference when we hosted the cross country meet. It was a different perspective to see them go out and do their thing. To see that as a spectator was really cool. The energy of the home meet was amazing. I had a great time cheering on my teammates and hope we can host another meet again.”
Despite missing the 2019 cross country season, Stallworth returned to action as she competed in the 2019-20 indoor season where she captured a win in the 3000m at VMI, while then winning the mile at the Buccaneer Track & Field Invitational and also running a leg in the Distance Medley Relay that won gold at the same meet.
“It felt really good to go out and race again,” said Stallworth. “I still had to remind myself to be patient and to embrace racing again. I had to shift my focus from result-related goals to process-related ones, because I was still building back up and had a lot of ground to cover.”
However, after scoring points at the SoCon Indoor Championships where the Bucs placed runner-up (their best finish since 1998), there was another break in the action for Stallworth. This time she wasn’t alone as the COVID-19 pandemic hit the United States, forcing a complete cancellation of the remainder of the NCAA winter sports calendar and the entire spring season.
“That SoCon meet was awesome,” Stallworth said. “We were determined to do our best and wanted to win. We were determined no matter who was competing. We were all there for our teammates screaming our hearts out for them. It was one of best team championship meets I’ve been a part of.
“When everything shut down due to COVID, it was hard because we just finished second at indoor and immediately had our eyes on winning the outdoor championship. We wanted to win and our finish at indoors was that motivating factor. The stoppage was disappointing for everyone. I was planning on redshirting that spring and was going to take the time to train. It was definitely hard not being able to train and do workouts with my teammates.”
With all of the negative news surrounding our country, Stallworth knew she had to rely on running to stay positive and grounded.
“Running is like coffee,” said Stallworth. “It’s one of those things that if you do it often enough you get so used to it. If you missed a run or you didn’t have coffee that morning, it’s like something is missing that day.”
As the spring moved to summer, there was talk that COVID would have an impact on the fall sports, which meant there could be the possibility Stallworth would miss her second straight cross country season. On August 13, only a few weeks shy of the start of the season, the SoCon announced they postponed fall conference competition.
With a lot of uncertainty in the air, Stallworth stuck with what she knows best – running.
“Being a runner is therapeutic because it allows you to get outside and clear your mind,” said Stallworth. “Running is such a big stress reliever for me and a lot of people in general. It’s probably the only thing over quarantine that got me out of the house. I definitely relied on running.”
Coach Layne also noticed how strong Lindsey came back to campus this fall because of her workouts.
“Lindsey did a great job training this summer,” said Layne. “She ran 65 miles per week and came back to school super fit.”
Keeping up with her training regimen and having a positive mindset paid off because two months after the league office postponed fall sports, the SoCon announced it was going to hold the Cross Country Championships in November.
“As the days passed it got to a point nobody knew what was going to happen,” said Stallworth. “I wasn’t going to get too worried or stressed. So I kept training and focusing on what I love to do, which is running. It felt great to be back with my teammates and whatever happens, happens.
“When we learned about the conference championship I was excited. We have a lot of freshmen on the team this year and I was glad they were going to be able to experience running in the conference championship meet. I was happy everyone was able to get the opportunity to display all the work they’ve been putting in. We’re always training for something – each other, to get faster, to improve – but to have the conference meet, that gave us an immediate goal for everything we have done. I think it helped motivate everyone and made it feel more normal. We needed that sense of normalcy.”
As the conference announced the news, Coach Watts was prepared to get his squads tuned up. He was able to get the Bucs scheduled to run in the Newberry Invitational on Oct. 30 in South Carolina.
The meet was a huge success as the Blue and Gold swept all four titles – both teams and individuals – including Stallworth capturing her first collegiate title with a personal best time of 17:36 – which was an entire minute faster than her nearest competitor. Even more impressive, this marked Stallworth’s first collegiate cross country meet in 722 days.
“It was great to race in grass and on hills again,” said Stallworth, whose last cross country meet prior was on Nov. 9, 2018 at the NCAA Regional in Tallahassee, Fla. “I missed that a lot. I knew it had been a while, but it didn’t sink in that it was that much until later. I was happy we were able to go out there and be given the opportunity to race again. It felt so good.”
The result came as no surprise to Coach Watts.
“Lindsey had a great run and looked really strong at Newberry,” said Watts. “She didn’t miss a step. I wasn’t surprised at all. She has a competitive mindset, and knows how to prepare for races and championship meets. She now has a goal of what she can accomplish at the conference meet and potentially qualify for the NCAA Championships.”
Now that Stallworth and the Bucs have a race under their belt, they now turn all of their attention to the SoCon meet, which will be raced this Saturday at the Georgia Premier Cross Country Course in Macon, Ga. Stallworth and her teammates will toe the start line for the women’s 5K race at 10:45 a.m., where the Buccaneer leader looks to become just the second Buccaneer individual winner in program history – joining current Buccaneer assistant Catherine Layne (formerly Berry) as she won in 1997. Ironically, that win also came in the Peach State.
“Coach Layne and I have a really good relationship,” said Stallworth. “She’s extremely knowledgeable about our sport and she knows each of us so well. She’s so good at knowing how each one of us runs and she’s spot on every time with the goals she sets. We haven’t talked about the individual (SoCon) title but we are both on the same page already.”
Layne, a Buccaneer Hall of Fame member and former All-American, echoed those statements.
“We have a good relationship. I’m not a super loud coach. The team knows what I expect without having to talk about it,” said Layne, who still holds the program outdoor record in the 5000m. “Lindsey and I don’t have to talk every day and I don’t have to rally her. She knows my goals and what she wants to achieve. She wants the school record (16:00.97). I want her to achieve it because the record is 21 years old and it should be broken. She’s the type of athlete that can reach the mark.
“Regarding this weekend’s conference meet, we haven’t talked about winning the individual title. We talked about having a strong race and making it to nationals. When she got hurt last fall, she set the goal to qualify for nationals and she’s honed in on making that happen.”
After being a spectator and supporting her teammates at last year’s championship, Stallworth knows she can’t take these races for granted and is excited to join her fellow Buccaneers at the start line this weekend.
“In the past I may have taken some of the meets for granted, but after dealing with the time off and not knowing when our next competition would be, it reminds you how wonderful it is to race and represent the Blue and Gold,” said Stallworth. “One of the best things about being a Buccaneer is the support we get from each other and how we are motivated to see each other succeed. It’s special and I’ll never take it for granted again.”
On Saturday, the runner from Knoxville will look to make a statement in her Blue and Gold as she runs in the SoCon Championship and tries to achieve her goal of making the NCAA Championship.