Q&A with Cross Country's DeLohnni Nicol-Samuel and Rachel Deline

By Jason Williams
Assistant Media Services Director

As Campbell prepares for the 2011 Big South Cross Country Championships on Oct. 29 in Conway, S.C. (men's 8K, women's 5K), junior DeLohnni Nicol-Samuel and senior Rachel Deline sat down to discuss their moves from Canada to Buies Creek and what it's like being a runner. 

Question: How did you get started in the sport?

Nicol-Samuel: I used to play soccer and I got out of it, so my dad suggested that I try running for a year to stay in shape. So I did that, and I was actually alright at it, so I decided to stay with it because there are more opportunities.

Deline: I was good at it (smiling). My first ever race was in grade six when my teacher forced me to run the 800 because they didn't have enough people to run. I came in third, and I'm pretty sure it was a flook, but I got an ego boost and I kept doing it year after year and I got better and better. I'm not coordinated to do any other sports (laughs).

Q: What is your favorite thing about running?

Nicol-Samuel: I like running because it's a good way just to clear your mind from stuff. When you run you are away from everything and I like that about it. I also like the sport of running because you can always do better, and there's an easy way to gage how you're doing with times. You can always see if you are improving or not, and I like that part about it too.

Deline: Probably the runner's high that you get. Sometimes it's in the middle of the run, sometimes it's after. You just feel good. It could be a crappy day, you could be coming back from something terrible happening like failing a test or having your friends mad at you, but you can go run with three or four of your friends on the team, and by the end of the run it feels like the best day. And getting personal bests in races, those are good too (laughs).

Q: How did you first hear about Campbell?

Nicol-Samuel: I didn't really know much about how to get into colleges until I had this friend tell me about a recruiting website. So I just went and entered my times on that, and Coach Frenette found me. Everything for me was kind of last minute. I didn't come on a visit or anything, I just came to school, but I enjoy it. I was used to traveling since I was young. When I was 12, I was already traveling with soccer, even internationally, so I was used to it.

Deline: Coach Frenette and I actually graduated from the same high school. He keeps an eye out for runners back home. He emailed me a couple of times and phoned me, and I came down for a visit.

Q: What was it like moving from Canada to Buies Creek?

Nicol-Samuel: It's a bit different culturally. I guess the States and Canada are a lot of the same, but there are also a lot of differences, like the food. A lot of stuff you guys deep fry (laughs).

Deline: The pace of life down here is a lot slower, while back home it's go go go. Canadians are known for being friendly, but it's a different kind of friendly with Southerners. They are more concerned with your well being down here, more in your space, hugging kind of thing too (laughs). You don't get that much back home. The food is very different too.

Q: Have you made it to the North Carolina State Fair since you've been here?

Nicol-Samuel: I did last year with a couple of guys from the team. I didn't eat anything deep fried. I'm not big on fried food (laughs).

Deline: I'm going! I went last year and I tried a little bit of everything. I'd never had a deep fried chocolate bar until I came to the state fair. It's a once a year thing (laughing).

Q: What has been your favorite race that you have competed in at Campbell?

Nicol-Samuel: Probably just getting into the steeplechase for track. Something more than just running around the track. You have these barriers to hop over and you have the water pit you have to watch out for. It seems like in a lot of races, someone's going down in there, but I like that one a lot.

Deline: Probably the Charlotte Invitational this year. I heard that it was a fast course, plus there was a good field running, and it was my best race ever. It was the fastest time I've ever raced and I just walked off that course feeling great. Most of our team got personal bests in that race. I didn't realize that I was so close to breaking 18 (minutes), which is a goal for me this year.

Q: What are your strengths and weaknesses as a runner?

Nicol-Samuel: I would say a strength of mine is determination in training. If I have a goal time, I'm going to work really hard to make it. I'm dedicated. I wake up in the morning if I have to and do my double runs, even if the team's not necessarily doing it. If I have a schedule, I'm going to stick to that schedule, no matter what. As far as a weakness, I'm improving on it, but it's still a weakness, the mental aspect of racing. Sometimes I don't prepare myself properly mentally. I guess that sometimes comes back to get me in the race. So far this year I've been doing a better job with it.

Deline: I have a nasty kick at the end of a race. That's pulled me through a few average races. I guess all of us cross country runners are a little bit crazy (smiling). We can ignore the pain and about how much we're running. So I don't know if that's a strength, but we're definitely delusional (laughs). As a weakness, this is a really mental sport. If you ever do poorly, you can never blame your team for it. It's all on you, and you can get pretty down after that, so you just really need to work on being mentally tough and working through it. That's something I need to keep working on.

Q: Like any sport, cross country is a very mental sport. What's going through your head while you are competing?

Nicol-Samuel: Different things. I've found that in my best races, I'm singing in my head. Something that relaxes me and keeps a beat so I can keep my pace. That's what I normally try to think about.

Deline: It starts out pretty positive. I tell myself "I can do this" or "I've got this," "keep going," go get the next girl." Probably around the middle of the race, I'm starting to hate my life and questioning why I chose this sport (laughs). You think about the pain and someone passes you and you kick yourself in the butt a little bit. Towards the end, you start getting it back. "You've got to work for this" and "you've got to work for your team." "Go get that next girl" and "keep pushing." You start sprinting and you know you have it. So it changes constantly, it's never the same.

Q: How do you get yourself in that mental place before a race?

Nicol-Samuel: Normally a bit before I'll just visualize the race and what I want to do in it. I find that one helps a lot. I also try to not get too excited. I find that if I get too excited and worked up, I'm not going to race as well as if I were relaxed. So usually about an hour before, I just focus on relaxing.

Deline: I try to calm myself down. I tend to freak out, so I focus on all the good workouts that I've had and if I'm feeling good, I focus on that. If I'm not feeling good, I focus on what I can do to make myself feel better, but mostly just ignoring that. It's a lot of calming stuff because, like with a lot of runners, we don't need to get worked up. That can be detrimental. I try to focus on my goals and how to get them, which a lot of times is mile splits. So I try to focus on my splits. I visualize myself winning and beating those other girls. It's a lot of positive self talk, continuously calming yourself down. It works for me (laughs).

Q: Your times have been improving all through the season. How do you see things playing out at the Big South Conference Championships?

Nicol-Samuel: Conference is a good meet to worry about actual racing. If you race hard your times will come. I hope to come out all-conference in that. If I do that, hopefully I can break 25 minutes. It's mostly focusing on position, getting points for your team so we can do well.

Deline: I feel really good about our girl's team. We're looking to finish among the top. We want to be at the top, competing. Personally I want to be top-10 and all-conference. You're focused on racing, and you're focused on winning and beating the other girls. Hopefully I'll break 18. That's my time goal, but at conference it's not about time, it's about racing your hardest and winning.

Q: What are your hobbies outside of running?

Nicol-Samuel: I love soccer, still, and music a lot too. I just love to listen to music and I like to sing. I like all kinds of music, but I'd have to say my favorite is soca music, which is a Caribbean music, up tempo and really upbeat. It just makes you happy when you hear it.

Deline: I'm a little bit of a nerd. I'm really big into reading. I can sit down with a book and just be a hermit all day. I like the crosswords and the word searches (laughs). It's a little embarrassing to admit, but I could be hoiled up for a week if I wanted to. But I like spending time with my friends. Running is kind of like life, and that's where I go to socialize. I like time to myself after that.

Q: DeLohnni, two summers ago, you competed at the international level. Tell us a little about that.

Nicol-Samuel: World Juniors was a really good experience, just to see other competition and people performing at a high level. The race itself wasn't so good. I had to drop out because of a breathing condition. I have asthma, so it acts up here and there. Unfortunately, it acted up during that race and I had to drop out, but just the experience of the games were really interesting. I've done some other meets too. That was the biggest as far as the level of competition, but I've done other international meets as well.

Q: Do you have anything like that planned in the future?

Nicol-Samuel: Hopefully the Olympics someday. I'm sure every runner has that in mind at some point.

Deline: I'm not looking to compete on a high level in the future I don't think. I still want to run and stay in shape. I do want to run a marathon one day.

Q: Rachel, I understand you have played rugby before. Tell me a little about that.

Deline: Yes I played rugby in high school. It was so much fun! Next to running, that was probably my favorite sport. They thought that because I was fast that I would be really good at catching the ball and scoring, but I was terrible. I couldn't catch the ball for the life of me. I couldn't throw the ball for the life of me. So they put me at a different position. I was a tackler and it was fantastic. They're not expecting it. You're the smallest girl on the field and you go out and the next thing you're on the ground. It was so much fun. My mom would be terrified walking away from my games because she didn't realize how violent it was (laughs). But it was a fabulous time.

Q: What are your plans after graduation? Any running in the future?

Nicol-Samuel: After graduation I want to continue running a bit. Since I have dual citizenship with St. Vincent, I'd like to try to run in the Olympics for them. So I'd like to continue running and see where that takes me. That's the short term, I guess. I really haven't thought too much about the long term. As far as after running, I'd like to maybe get into coaching, or be an accountant.

Deline: I need to go to grad school. I'm majoring in psychology with a minor in criminal justice, and you can't do much with a bachelor's in psych. I'm looking at some schools back home in Canada and I'm looking at some here. I'm looking at some grad assistant programs, maybe helping out with cross country and track teams. Hopefully getting my master's and my Ph.D. in clinical psychology…and maybe working in a hospital or private practice. I've even thought about working in the criminal justice system. Trying to keep my options open.