Simpson leads cross-country team by example

College is comparable to a marathon. They are both long, tough and there are a lot of people hoping to eventually cross the finish line.

Stephanie Simpson is running the figurative race to earn a degree, while literally running it as a member of the cross-country team.

Simpson, a senior from Homewood, has competed in over 35 cross-country and track events as a member of the UNA cross-country team and has had a top-20 finish 14 times, including a second place finish in a 500-meter run last season.

“I’ve always loved running,” Simpson said. “In seventh grade, when I moved to (Homewood), is when I started (running) competitively. I’ve been doing it about 10 years now.”

Simpson and the rest of the cross-country team spends more time running in one week than most Americans do in a year. That said, Simpson’s work ethic and attitude have left an impression on her coaches and teammates.

“People don’t realize these girls get up every morning and run 60 or 70 miles a week,” said head coach Scott Trimble. “In the four years (Stephanie) has been here, I’ve never heard her complain about a workout or complain about a run. She comes to work every day.”

Fellow senior runner MarLah Stancil says Simpson’s all-around determination and encouragement makes her a leader.

“(Stephanie) is extremely hardworking, whether that’s academically, athletically or in everyday tasks,” she said. “She’s a strong leader by example and not to mention our team’s greatest cheerleader.”

Simpson also possesses another quality Trimble finds just as valuable, or even more valuable, than hard work and a positive viewpoint.

“I think the best thing I can say about Stephanie is if something happened and I had to leave my little daughter with her, I’d have no second thought about it,” Trimble said. “That’s how much I trust her. These days, people like that are hard to find, but that’s the kind of girl Stephanie is.”

Over the course of her career, Simpson has racked up a lot of mileage on the ground, but even that distance pales when compared to the miles she has flown traveling the world.

Simpson says she has been to 26 countries and this summer traveled to Honduras on a mission trip before heading to Europe, visiting Germany, Hungary, Slovakia and Austria.

“I grew up a missionary kid,” Simpson said. “As far as that goes we traveled a good bit. Now, I kind of have a passion for traveling. A lot of those are still mission trips.”

Simpson, an Academic All-American last year, is on track to graduate in the spring. She plans to further her education after UNA but is leaving the doors open for different opportunities in the future.

“As far as the next step, I’m looking at grad school, probably at UAB,” Simpson said. “I’m going back and forth between getting my masters in counseling or kind of switching directions a little bit and getting into a physician assistant program, which is more in the medical field.”

With her cross-country career at UNA approaching the finish line, Simpson is ready for her senior season and expects a great year with her teammates.

“I am really excited about this last season,” she said. “The girls we’ve got are great. It’s just really cool to see the team start working together for the first time (this season). As far as cross-country goes, that’s been cool to see. We’ll see how the season goes.”

Simpson and the Lions will begin their next run Sept. 12 in the Earl Jacoby/UAH Charger Invitational.