This past May, Alexandra “Alex” Lucki was packed and ready to go home to Ontario, Canada,
when she received a call from her coach saying that she had made it to the
2016 NCAA Outdoor Track & Field East Regionals.
Lucki had just squeaked in with an at-large bid in the 1500 meter event,
earning the No. 44 seed in a field of 48 runners. To advance out of the weekend
she would need to finish in the top 12 – or move up 32 places from her prelim seed
to qualify for the NCAA Championships. She took care of business in the opening round,
finishing 22nd, but would still need another 10-place improvement to make
her first career NCAA Championship appearance a reality.
“I was really excited to go to nationals, I did not expect to make it,” said Lucki, a junior who runs both cross country and track at the University of Maryland. “During the last lap I just started kicking and passing people and when I finished, a girl passed me at the end and so I thought ‘Oh, I didn’t make it,’” she said.
But Lucki’s teammates on the sidelines were yelling that she had indeed placed for nationals. Lucki didn’t believe them at first and scanned the big screen waiting to see her name pop up.
The top-12 overall runners at the East Regional would represent their schools at the 2016 NCAA Championships in Eugene, Oregon. Lucki snuck in right at the coveted No. 12 spot, completing the improbable 32-place jump while running a PB or “personal best.” Her prelim time of 4:20.16 also made her the second-fastest Terp to ever run the 1500 on an outdoor track.
With these accomplishments, Lucki truly advanced from being an underdog.
“I feel like in different points in my career I have various breakthroughs, but that was definitely a big one,” Lucki said.
Head track and field and cross country coach Andrew Valmon said Lucki is one of several Canadian recruits who have continued to earn success as Terps.
Lucki’s parents, John and Gail, knew that from the time their daughter won a cross country race when she was in the fourth grade, that she was a “strong runner.”
“We didn’t really appreciate the extent of her running potential and we don’t think she did either until she first joined a running club in the 10th grade,” said Alex’s father John Lucki. “She wound up winning the Ontario high school junior 1500m championship that year.”
Lucki began her athletics career playing soccer and she eventually played both varsity soccer and curling in high school, along with running indoor and outdoor track.
When her parents watched her play high-level soccer over the course of many years they could see that Alex, “did a very impressive amount of running on the field and covered more ground than anyone else,” they said.
“I was definitely a soccer player from a young age,” Lucki said. “But I ended up being better at track and field and more schools were recruiting me for track.”
When applying to college, Lucki looked to American schools because “sports are a bigger deal than in the Canadian college system and there is deeper competition in the NCAA,” she said.
Additionally, Lucki was looking for a school that was not too far away from home and had the best balance of athletics and academics.
Lucki, found her place at Maryland for the school has a highly regarded engineering program nationally (No. 24 in the 2017 U.S. News and World Report Best College Rankings) and athletics program.
“When Alex first decided that she wanted to explore university running options in the U.S., we were a bit anxious about whether Alex’s search for the athletic opportunities she wanted might result in some sacrifice of academic opportunities,” Gail Lucki said. “So we were delighted that she decided to attend Maryland, an excellent academic university with a particularly strong engineering program.”
Additionally, Lucki’s father added, “One of the beauties of Maryland is that it’s not really that far from home. Washington D.C., is only about an hour-and-a-half flight from Toronto and also about an eight-and-a half-hour drive. But, I’m one of those people who likes to drive, so I actually prefer to drive down to see Alex, and find that very easy to do.”
While her parents try to come down for several events throughout the year, they also try to visit on her weekends where she doesn’t have competitions, because it gives them more time to spend with her.
Lucki is now in her third year of the civil engineering program at the university, as well as being a three-season athlete, competing in cross country, indoor track, outdoor track while continuing to train in the summer.
“People probably think it’s harder than it is,” she said when asked if it’s tough to juggle being a student athlete and having a rigorous major.
While it is a lot of work, Lucki said it all comes down to time management.
“Spring exams are super stressful because they fall during the Big 10 Tournament,” Lucki said. But she makes it work.
“Being in this very rigorous major it requires balance and organization,” Coach Valmon added.
While she is not sure of her career path, Lucki decided on majoring in civil engineering because she has a good grasp on physics and mathematics and it’s, “a super good degree to have.”
“When you think of Alex, you think of a fun person, she’s learning everyday, learning about herself,” Valmon said. “She came here [to the university] with open arms.”
Breaking Through is a special presentation of umterps.com.
Jess Nocera is a senior in the Philip Merrill College of Journalism at the University of Maryland and is a contributing writer to umterps.com.
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