By Athena Liu
It was 90 degrees and the humidity high in Terra Haute, Indiana Sunday as Loyola senior Cassie Bloch ran the 1,500-meter final at the MVC Outdoor Championships, trying to better her bronze-medal finish of last year.
Unfortunately for Bloch, the competition was also fierce, and she finished the race in 4:31.24, which was 0.23 out of third place. But while Bloch was not the winner, she succeeded in crossing another finish line at the same time. While she was competing for the last time in a Loyola uniform in the sultry Indiana town, she also earned her degree in biochemistry, missing the graduation ceremony her classmates took part in that day, 200 miles away.
Bloch was not one to whom success came easily in her sport. She took the steady, painful route from the bottom of her team and developed into a champion, a record holder and a true leader of the program.
A two-time All-State in cross country and three-time All-State in track, Bloch finished her successful high school career at Regina High School in Warren, Michigan, and came to Loyola in 2014 seeking a transition.
“You want to come home and talk to your high school coach and say, ‘I’m making these improvements. Look what happened since high school,’” Bloch said.
But reality struck her.
In her first college cross-country race — the 2014 Badger season opener — Bloch finished last on her team with a time of 16:36. On the college level, she said, she was struck by how much faster everyone was. But Bloch said she also knew that running was about constantly pushing oneself.
“What drives me most is where can you find your limits,” she said, “because you don’t have to necessarily have limits.”
With that in mind, Bloch stayed patient while trying to adjust to the college training and racing regimen. She took a while to get comfortable with the indoor season, when she had to run eight laps for a mile race on a 200-meter track, instead of four on the 400-meter track she was used to. She also struggled with regressing despite all those efforts, which, according to Bloch, was the biggest obstacle during that time.
There was no other way, Bloch said, than just going out there and focusing on everyday practice.
“I had the light at the end of the tunnel, and I never really lost sight of that,” Bloch said.
The first two years were painful and effortless, she said, but when junior year came, Bloch’s efforts paid off. She found a way, she said, to block out negative ideas that would hinder her during races. And with the support of her teammates and coach, she gradually built up her self-confidence. That led to a breakout season with a third-place finish at the MVC Indoor Championships, eighth on Loyola’s all-time outdoor 1,500-meter record board, and a bronze at the outdoor conference championships.
Alan Peterson, Bloch’s mid-distance coach, witnessed her progress both physically and mentally. He also saw a more profound impact on the rest of the team.
“Cassie went from being a walk-on to being a scholarship player,” said Peterson. “It really made the other girls look up to her and gave them the credibility of what you can do with hard work and what you can do if you don’t give up on yourself.”
In February, Bloch took home a conference title in the mile run at the MVC Indoor Championships and literally brought the team to tears. Lindsey Brewis, Bloch’s teammate and best friend, later told her she was the only person who could make people cry by just running well.
During their first year in Loyola, Brewis had to take a redshirt season due to a concussion and recalled Bloch sharing stories and cheering her on when she could do nothing but stay in the darkest corner of her dorm room.
At the end of the first semester, Brewis told Bloch she wanted to transfer.
“If you leave, I don’t know what I’m going to do,” Bloch told her.
It was at that moment, Brewis said, when she realized how much Bloch cared about her.
“That was definitely the moment where she kept me here, kept me grounded and kept me focused on what’s important,” Brewis said.
Brewis eventually stayed at Loyola, and became one of the most successful distance runners in the program’s history. But she was not the only one on the team influenced by Bloch’s caring nature, her warmth and, of course, her inspiring career.
“She’s just an amazing athlete,” Bewis said, “so it’s really cool to compete with her. But not against her.”