Laura Mickelson, the first Loyola Marymount University student to compete at the NCAA Cross Country Championships, was recently inducted into the Lions’ Athletics Hall of Fame. Mickelson, who graduated in 2008, called the honor the culmination of her unexpectedly successful college track career.
Mickelson’s achievements at LMU took everyone by surprise. When she was mulling over colleges to attend, she considered LMU because both her stepfather and mother worked there. But the reason she and her twin sister Sara enrolled had to do with the school’s cross country team. Both Mickelson sisters ran in high school.
“We weren’t stand-out runners in high school,” says Mickelson, now 28 and a physical therapist in Seattle. “We weren’t getting scholarship offers from other colleges. But we talked to the coach, and he allowed us to walk on the team.”
Mickelson seized the opportunity. With instruction from coach Scott Guerrero, she sprinted her way into the record books. In 2006, she won the West Coast Conference women’s cross country individual title. Mickelson placed seventh overall at the NCAA West Regional before heading to the NCAA championships, a feat she repeated in 2007. She was a three-time first-team All-West Coast Conference selection in cross country (2005-07).
“Looking back at my experience at LMU, my sister and I just started working really hard,” she says. “Hard work pays off.”
One of her most cherished memories is seeing her family and three LMU coaches cheering her on at the NCAA championships in Eugene, Ore.
“Laura’s accomplishments really put our program on the map,” Guerrero says. “She elevated the profile of our distance program and was really the catalyst for the many exceptional female distance runners that have come through our program since Laura had so much success here.”
Mickelson graduated in 2008, an Academic All-American, with a degree in natural science.
“What I enjoyed about LMU is most class sizes don’t go over 30, and I liked that one-on-one attention,” she says. “Relationships with the professors is really important.”
Mickelson earned a doctorate in physical therapy at the University of Washington, but LMU is never very far from her heart. She recently traveled to the Dominican Republic with some colleagues to plant trees for an organization called Plant With Purpose.
“At LMU we learned about service and how to carry it on and do it because you care about helping others, not just because it looks good on your resume,” she says. “LMU is all about serving others. I’ve tried to take that principle into my career.”