Jessica Hickey had two very different options on the table as she prepared to complete her senior year at Rochelle Township High School.
A three-sport athlete who competed in tennis, cross country and track, Hickey identified The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and Knox College as her top two choices for pursuing an education after high school. While the two campuses differ greatly in both size and exposure, Hickey chose the Prairie Fire over the Illini, and after one year with the Knox College cross country team, she is optimistic about her future in Galesburg.
“Knox ended up giving me some good financial aid, and I liked the campus because it was small,” Hickey said. “Everybody was saying good things about it… I really like it. It’s a lot like high school where it’s fun, but physically taxing like any sport. It’s really helped me integrate into the school and make friends. That’s probably the best part about it.”
Hickey didn’t begin cross country until her freshman year of high school, but with the help of Rochelle coaches John Dobbs and Mark Zilis, she managed to find her stride while learning new skills that have come in handy at Knox, where she is pursing a career in elementary education.
“They were by far the most influential,” Hickey said. “They taught me what sports were about, not only with the running aspect of it, but with schoolwork and time management… I’ve always been interested in what goes on behind the scenes of our classrooms. I really like kids and my mom is in the field so I have an idea of what it’s like.”
Her first cross country experience at the college level may have been daunting, but Hickey said she was able to adjust after competing in her first few meets. Traveling to different colleges and bonding with her new teammates have been some of her favorite moments since joining the Prairie Fire.
“The team was new and we were running a longer course,” she said. “In high school we were running a 5K but in college we run a 6K, so the first few weeks were a bit nerve-racking, but after that it was the same process of getting ready for each race… Most of us are away from home for the first time, so we become like family in a lot of ways. We spent most of our time together in and out of practice and it really builds that community feeling and knowing you’re all in it together.”
While Hickey continues her athletic and academic careers at Knox, her sister Anne and her brother Ben could be a pair of runners to watch for when the Rochelle cross country teams begin their seasons this fall. Even though neither of her parents were runners growing up, Hickey and her siblings have become synonymous with Rochelle athletics, and Hickey is hoping her younger sister and brother help their respective teams continue to improve moving forward.
“Be there for each other and listen to the coaches,” she said. “Learn how to take care of yourself and be willing to put in the hard work. The results will come.”