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Pushing to the Finish Line

Pushing to the Finish Line

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Pushing to the Finish Line
by Kayley Erlandson
Photos by Thru Him Photography

Ask anyone and they’ll tell you: Jennifer Dufner was born to run.

Since she began running competitively in 7th grade, the West Fargo senior has enjoyed a successful career as both a cross country runner, taking 4th place at state during her junior year, and as a long-distance runner for the track and field team, where she recently broke two school records.

Brad Amundson, Dufner’s cross country coach, says that Jen has grown into a leader on the team as her running career has progressed.

“She sets an example of what hard work and dedication look like and how it can pay off,” says Amundson. “Running is a tough sport and when Jen is at her best, she is a motivator for the team, more by example than anything else. If she runs hard in a meet or practice, people see how hard and tough it is. It gives people motivation to run that hard and to be that tough.”

Jennifer’s mother, Bev Dufner, also spoke highly of her daughter’s intense discipline and devotion to others, both on and off the race course.
“As a mom, I admire her so much for her dedication,” Bev proudly notes. “Not only for her training, but for her dedication to her family, her friends and her faith. What was really outstanding as a mom was to see her accomplishments.”

In addition to her natural aptitude for running and quiet leadership, Dufner exudes a strong sense of humility and focus she gained throughout the course of her six seasons running on the cross country team.

Jen’s main advice for runners?

“There are going to be days when you feel really good and there will be days you don’t feel good and don’t feel motivated,” mentions Dufner. “You need to learn how to push past it. You need to push through it because…” she paused to laugh before continuing, “…because running is pain, mentally and physically.”

Dufner says she thrives off the energy in each and every race, and her favorite part of a cross country race is seeing how she stacks up against her competition.

“It pushes you to run a better time and stick with the front pack of girls,” Dufner says.

Dufner attributes her success in cross country and her positive attitude to her coach, her teammates and the team’s positive dynamic. The cross country runners engage in numerous pre-race traditions, including doing a team cheer before each race and planning meals together the night before their meets.
“Seeing my teammates work hard every day, no matter what level they’re at, that gives me the motivation to work hard,” says Dufner. “I want to do well because my teammates are always there and support each other. I wouldn’t be able to do anything without them. No matter how fast or slow they are, new, veterans, it doesn’t matter. You can’t get anywhere without a team. You run for your team, not just yourself.”

Jennifer’s mom also reiterates the strong sense of camaraderie on the cross country team.

“Everything is so team-oriented,” Bev says. “It’s not just about the individual. I love seeing how much fun she’s having with her friends, watching them support one another. At the end of the race, she and the girls all hug each other, support each other and hold each other up after the run.”

The West Fargo cross country team’s mantra this year is “Teamwork,” which bears remarkable similarity to Jennifer’s personal motto: “Teamwork makes the dream work.”

“You all work so hard together and you all have something in common, which is running,” Dufner mentions. “It’s nice looking back and thinking I couldn’t have done it without them.”

Dufner is also quick to attribute credit to her coach, Brad Amundson.

“He’s been there since day one in 7th grade,” Dufner says. “Everything I’ve earned, I owe it all to him.”

Coach Amundson talked about the things he wants his runners to focus on during each and every race.

“I always try to get my athletes to focus on what they can control,” Amundson emphasizes. “They can’t control the weather, how they feel, or how other runners feel or race. They can only control their effort and competitiveness. They can control why they are competing, that it is more than just for their place and time…it’s about running to help each other, the team.”

Jennifer’s focus and penchant for leading by example led her to her best cross country season yet last year, where she took 4th place at the state cross country meet. Dufner knows the road to last year’s state meet was paved with days of intense training and discipline.

“My goal was to get in the top eight,” Dufner said. “I remember crossing the finish line and just thinking, Wow, that went by so fast! I suppose you get a bit of an energy rush.”

Dufner said she does not like to measure her performance by her final time or by rankings going into the race. To Dufner, the time it takes her to complete a race doesn’t matter as much as the effort she puts in during a race.
“We classify the season as a success if she runs her last race at state as hard as she can,” Amundson notes. “That she finishes the season knowing that she has given the maximum effort in her race, that she has competed every single step and that she can look me in the eye and tell me she gave it her all for herself and the team.”

After her senior year, Jen hopes to continue pursuing her love of running after graduation.

“I plan on running in college,” Dufner mentions. “I’m looking at some Division 1 schools and places that have nutrition programs. I’m looking forward to getting through senior year with success and building new relationships in college.”

“It’s going to be exciting to watch her compete at a higher level,” Dufner’s mother said. “To watch her continue to grow, to learn her own strengths and capacities.”

The specifics of Dufner’s upcoming running career may be up in the air, but one thing is absolutely certain: Jen loves to run, and she will run any course that is set before her.