In the Game: Taking It All in Stride

Sara Patterson

Sara Patterson '14

by Tony Moore. Video by Joe O'Neill

It’s easy to imagine accomplished athletes being driven to play a certain sport at a young age. But ask fleet-footed Sara Patterson ’14 how she became a runner, and you won’t get what you expect.

“In fifth grade, it was the only sport we were allowed to do,” she says, “so every single fifth-grader joined cross country. I did really well in my first race and then … just sort of fizzled out.” But the promise she showed in that first race reappeared in 8th grade, and she’s never doubted her talent again.

When Patterson began her hunt for the perfect college, she had academics and track on her mind, but she had already committed to another school. A chance overnight visit to Dickinson, though, would open a new chapter in her life.

“It completely changed my mind,” she says of the visit. “I loved it. It changed my whole path.” A big part of it was the camaraderie she felt spending time with her future team. “Just hanging out with them on an overnight, they just seemed like people I could be friends with.”

Now she’s at the other end of her Dickinson experience, and in her wake are a shredded record book and a senior season that prompted Head Coach Don Nichter to say, “We may never see accomplishments like this again in track and field.”

Patterson’s first record was set in the 10,000 meter when she was a first-year student, and during her last year as a Red Devil she went on to do, well, all of this: break records in the 10,000 (again), 5,000, 3,000, 4 x 800 relay and the distance medley relay. She also was named to the All-American and All-Region cross-country teams and the Centennial Conference cross-country and indoor and outdoor track-and-field first teams, which came among still other honors.

“Looking at me freshman year, no one would have thought I’d do all of this,” Patterson says. Something else no one might have guessed is that she came in wanting to major in psychology but soon switched to neuroscience, an interdisciplinary program that kept her in engulfed in research.

“I’ve been in a lab my whole four years,” she says. “It’s really provided me with a base to understand how research works, and I can’t really imagine where I’d be without that great experience.”

Patterson, who graduated with honors (her senior thesis was “Blue Color Vision Sensitivity as an Indicator of Dopamine Levels in Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder”), is now off to the National Institutes of Health in Washington, D.C., where she’ll conduct research for a year while gearing up for grad school.

“I really love research,” she says. “And a big part of the reason I’m pursuing it now is because of my Dickinson experience.”  

Read more from the summer 2014 issue of Dickinson Magazine.

Published July 22, 2014