Maribel Sanchez Souther
Growing up in the New York City area, Maribel Sanchez Souther began running competitively at the age of seven. “I used to run one-mile races for kids at Van Cortlandt Park in New York City,” she remembers. Ironically, Van Cortlandt Park is the longtime home of the Ivy League’s Heptagonal Cross Country Championships (Heps), where Souther later ran some of her greatest races.
Souther is a two-time Heps cross-country champion, the only Dartmouth multiple winner and its first women’s champion. Did familiarity with the course help?
“It definitely was a factor,” says Souther. “People from other schools hadn’t run it before and were intimidated. But for me it was like home.”
Not that she needed the help. Souther is a four-time All-American and eight-time first team All-Ivy. She won the USA Junior Nationals in cross-country in 1994. She’s also a multiple Ivy indoor and outdoor track champion in the 3,000- and 5,000-meter runs. Honored as Dartmouth’s outstanding female athlete in 1996, Souther is arguably Dartmouth’s greatest women’s cross-country runner. In 1999 Dartmouth named her to the Ivy League’s Silver Anniversary cross country team.
Souther got serious about running early in life. “When I was nine or 10, I joined a running club that used to compete in age group races all over the country, including junior national cross country and track races,” she recalls. “I was not very good at first, then I caught the bug and finished in the top three at Junior Nationals in cross country and track.”
Despite excellent performances at the nationals, when it came time for college “Dartmouth was the only school that heavily recruited me and made me feel special,” says Souther. “I chose Dartmouth because it had the best balance between academics and athletics,” and the recruiting made it “an easy choice for me.”
For Souther, combining academics and athletics was a challenge. “It was a struggle sometimes, feeling like I should devote more time to studies and other times feeling like I was not giving an aspect of training the time it needed,” she says. “There were races I didn’t run because of academic conflicts. And I never did a study abroad program because I did not want to miss a season.”
Overcoming the challenges Souther graduated on time with a degree in sociology with a special concentration in education, and is currently pursuing a master’s degree in cultural studies at Dartmouth.
She’s also Dartmouth’s women’s cross country coach. After graduation Souther stayed in Hanover for two years, running competitively and coaching track at Hanover High School. During this time she was trained by Dartmouth’s then-coach Ellen O’Neil, who was also an outstanding Dartmouth track and cross country athlete. In 1998 Souther moved to Boston, earned a license as a massage therapist, and continued to run competitively while counting a number of elite Boston-area athletes as her clients.
In 2002 O’Neil, who Souther describes as “my mentor,” asked her to return to Dartmouth and help coach the women’s cross country team. When O’Neil left in August 2003 she was named interim cross country and track coach and in July 2004, head women’s cross country coach.
Being a great runner herself, is it hard to coach runners who may not have the athletic gifts she had in college? “My personal experience has gotten in the way,” Souther explains, “I thought they would respond to the training the same way I did. I’ve had to teach myself how to coach. But now I know my team.”
She apparently does. In Souther’s first year as head coach, the team achieved its highest finish in the Ivy League championships since 1998. One team member, Melanie Schorr ’06, became an All-American – Dartmouth’s first in women’s cross country in five years – and was named an NCAA Post-Graduate Scholar.
Souther hasn’t forgotten massage therapy, either. “We travel without a trainer, so I give athletes quick massages,” she explains.
This story was written by Stephen Eschenbach in 2006 in conjunction with the Ivy@50 celebration.