• Lillie Burke

Athlete close-up: Hannah Wittman

Hannah Wittman, a senior cross-country member, has taken the Ohio Valley Conference by storm this season leading the Bruins to a top 15 regional ranking.

“She has been the star, not that she hasn’t been in the past, but this year has felt different,” said Ashley Casavant, assistant women’s cross-country coach.

Wittman has had a historic year for Belmont, winning the Adidas OVC Female Runner of the Week on three different occasions, setting the new Belmont record for the 6K, an AON Belmont Female Athlete of the Month award for September and a first place finish to start the year off in the annual Bruin Opener held at local Percy Warner Park.

In three of the four meets she has competed in, Wittman placed in the top 15.

The success has been the product of Wittman’s hard work. For her, it was about the training, her faith, her teammates and her coaches.

“I wasn’t that great coming out of high school. Good enough to get an opportunity to run at this level, but I was told I wouldn’t compete, that I pretty much wouldn’t amount to anything and he laughed at me,” said Wittman of a former coach.

“That is where Ashley has been so great. She is the best coach any of us could really ask for. She really caters to every girl’s needs and really fosters each girl’s talent,” Wittman said.

Jeff Langdon, director of Belmont’s men and women cross-country and track and field programs, believes Casavant has made the biggest impact in Wittman’s improvement.

“Ashley has done a great job with Hannah in motivating her. Hannah has always been self-motivated, but it has gone to another level with the motivation from Ashley,” said Langdon.

For Casavant, the key isn’t holding her athletes’ hands because she wants them to be accountable, Wittman included.

“I’m not going to be with you every step of the way, but I’m going to get you where you want to go. I’m a big advocate of goals that scare you, and there have been moments in her career where I could tell we could push a little more and go a little farther.,” said Casavant. “But that’s my job to see that and to advocate that for her. I’m looking at the big picture, which looking at it from that angle can be intimidating, but it can also be realized by doing the little things every day.”

Wittman’s determination and growth by doing the little things hasn’t gone unnoticed. The progress is motivation for her teammates, like fellow senior Jessie Wynn.

“She’s a true fighter. You see the progress Hannah has made over the years, and it makes you believe. I mean, if Hannah did this and bought in and this was her result, then that’s what I’m going to do, too. I’m going to buy in,” said Wynn.

For Wittman and her teammates, that means buying into the process, the training, the proper diet, the importance of sleep and most importantly, the belief in yourself.

“Hannah, as a whole and what she has meant to this program, is something that I can’t fully put into words. She is a phenom as both a person and a runner. She has been a joy to coach – someone that has bought in that trusts and wants to be coached,” said Casavant.

It just isn’t her work ethic or her success that defines Wittman, and she doesn’t allow those things to define her.

“First and foremost, I hope people don’t see me, they see the Lord’s work in me. We talk about that a lot. We haven’t done this alone; the Lord has given us a talent to do something. So, I would hope people would be inspired that, at any moment, God could do something big in your life. You just have to be ready for it,” said Wittman.

Wynn sees Wittman as team-oriented and loyal rather than the superstar who is breaking records at meets every other weekend.

“There’s this moment when we are on the line, and we wish each other good luck where she looks you right in the eye and says, ‘You’ve got this. I know how hard you’ve worked, and this is one race. You’ve just got to go out there and do it.’ That’s the type of teammate Hannah is,” said Wynn.

The respect for Wittman isn’t just from her teammates and coaches, it’s from the university as well.

“She’s somebody I think everybody on this team and athletic department has a tremendous amount of respect for. She has represented Belmont really well,” said Casavant.

For Wittman, she wants her lasting legacy to be about her work, her growth. Year to year improving herself, not only on the track but also in life.

“I hope I would be remembered as a good teammate and a good person. Being a good athlete is one thing, but I’d rather be remembered for integrity and showing compassion,” said Wittman.

This article was written by Christian Sadler. Photo courtesy of belmontbruins.com

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