Claire Manley has always been growing. As one of the captains of the Gonzaga women’s cross country team, the redshirt junior has elevated her goals with each year and then smashed them.
Raised in Seattle, in the Green Lake area, Manley said she grew up running. She began competing in cross country in first grade and has kept it up since.
“My first couple years of high school running I really didn’t know what I was doing,” Manley said. “I was just having fun with it.”
During her senior year of high school, everything came together for Manley. It was when she beat a girl from a rival high school to make state that she realized that running could be a big part of her life.
Claire ended up at GU partially because her brother, Kellen Manley, ran for the men’s cross country and track teams.
“We were very competitive, and we fought a lot because we have very strong personalities. But she always held her own,” Kellen said. “And her being two years younger than me, she always felt I had an advantage. I think she always felt like she needed to prove people wrong and hold her own and I think that has been something that has motivated her, even now.”
Claire was not recruited to run for GU, but she walked onto the team her freshman year. By the time she was a sophomore, she had received a scholarship to run for the team. She said that year was when things really started to progress.
Once current women’s cross country and track coach Jake Stewart came into the picture, not only did Claire grow, but the team as a whole began to move in a new direction of growth and improvement.
One of Claire’s fondest memories of being on the team was when the group went to California for a meet last year and all nine girls who competed achieved a personal record in their respective events.
“Track is very individualized, but it’s so nice to see your teammates doing well and it really says something about the team if everyone is doing amazing,” Claire said.
It is moments like this one that stand out to Claire, moments of team accomplishment and growth. It is because of this mindset that she has always been a natural leader on the team.
“I definitely think of myself as a leader,” Claire said. “Leading and following strong women on the team has been really cool. It doesn’t matter what accomplishments you have if you don’t have people around you to celebrate that with.”
“She values people for who they are, not, just the runner,” said Amelia Evans, a former runner on the cross country team. “That includes being a runner but not solely as a runner. She sees their worth and who they are.”
But Claire also prides herself on being a whole person outside of running.
“In our sport specifically, you can be so focused, and you do have to live a certain lifestyle,” Claire said. “I found that embracing that I have an unbalanced life has really helped me.”
She has made it a priority to find success and validation is her life outside of running. As a business major with a concentration in marketing and a minor in political science, she has found a true passion for digital marketing.
It is through her education in marketing and her passion for running that Claire discovered she wants to find a way to connect the two.
She has interned with a running apparel company in Seattle as well as with Spokane Eats, a local food blog.
“I’m in a digital marketing class right now where I’m working on a project that’s running-related and I think I want to end up doing something along those lines,” Claire said. “When you’re passionate about it, it doesn’t feel like work. I think I’ve been really been able to find a good balance of those things.”
Claire also enjoys yoga and mindfulness and finding a state of flow through that. She said that being able to slow down has really helped her find a balance between being an athlete, student and just person in general.
“Building that identity outside of sports is really important,” Claire said. “Because, let’s say for some reason you’re having an off season, you don’t want your cup to be filled up by running and only your accomplishments in running. You want to be a whole person outside of that.”
It was because of this mindset that Claire decided to study abroad, something athletes are typically prohibited from doing.
“I knew I needed to redshirt if I wanted to run my fifth year and I thought that this would be a good time in my career to just have base-building anyways, so I just decided to do that in Florence,” Claire said. “I think it helped me get a lot of perspective.”
She said one of the best things she got out of this experience was the relationships she built with people outside of her team.
“We would travel to different countries on the weekends and I would have to get my long run in, which meant I’d have to go run 14 to 15 miles while they were all waiting in the hostel,” Claire said. “But, they were so supportive of it which was so nice. I feel like this can be a very isolating lifestyle so having friends who really support what you’re doing is so cool.”
Studying abroad proved to be an extremely valuable experience for Claire.
“I was disconnected from the running, but I really wasn’t,” Claire said. “My favorite part was being able to go to different countries and run in them. I had to put in 70 miles a week, which is 10 a day, so whether it was Italy, Croatia or Ireland I got to see so much more that way.”
She added that having those friends outside the team who support her and get excited about her accomplishments has been extremely fulfilling. A few weeks ago, Claire won her first race at Washington State University and received many congratulatory messages from her friends both on and off the team.
Claire credits her mentors for pushing her to succeed in ways she never imagined.
“[Evans] brought me up so much and saw potential in me and knew I could do big things here,” she said.
She said that her brother has also been a big inspiration by constantly pushing her to set higher expectations and goals for herself.
“I’m incredibly proud of her and it’s awesome to call her my little sister,” Kellen said. “She represents Gonzaga incredibly well. Gonzaga ladies’ and the guys’ teams could learn a lot from her.”
Claire is on track to keep improving and working her way to the top. She said a big goal of hers is to make it to nationals as an individual in cross country before her time at GU is over.
“I’m not trying to achieve something I did in the past,” Claire said. “It’s like everything I’m doing is new, exciting and faster than before.”