Dancing onto the course
At seven years old, Anna Cleary, a freshman cross country runner, was lacing up Irish dancing shoes instead of sneakers.
“My grandmother is from Ireland and I really like being Irish,” Cleary said. “I’d say ‘I wanna Irish dance,’ and I would pretend to do it in the kitchen, so my mom signed me up.”
For the next seven years, she would practice and compete at the McAleer School of Irish Dance in Delaware.
She began practices with a warm up, leading into soft or hard shoe; the difference being the addition or absence of fiberglass tips and heels on the soles. Practices were held year round and would lead up to a feis, an Irish dance competition held every few months.
At each feis, the students would line up at the back of the stage and go two at a time to perform in front of judges. Cleary would perform four dances, two soft shoe and two hard shoe, receiving her scores at the end of the day-long competition.
At age 14, Cleary stopped Irish dancing and began her freshman year of high school at Padua Academy.
“I wanted to be a part of something again, so I was going to try out for volleyball,” said Cleary. “But I’m short, so my dad said, ‘Maybe you should try out for cross country, you might not make volleyball,’ and so I tried it.”
Throughout her time on Padua’s cross country team, Cleary was a 5-time Delaware State Championships runner-up, first team All-State her junior and senior year, and had personal bests of 5:11 in the mile and 11:14 in the two-mile.
“I think dancing helped strengthen my legs and helped with coordination when it came to running,” said Cleary. “It’s also similar to running because you’re doing it for yourself. You have the team but it’s really up to you, you monitor how good you’re going to get by how hard you work at it.”
As she continued to improve and impress, Cleary caught the eyes of Delaware’s cross country head coach, Ryan Waite, who recruited her to join the team.
Just three months and three races in, Cleary is already finding her place among the Blue Hens.
Making her college debut during the Towson Invitational in August, Cleary placed 11th in the 4k race, finishing just nine seconds behind Delaware’s first finisher.
“Irish dancing is fun but I feel like running is more rewarding for me,” said Cleary. “I’m also more dedicated to cross country because it takes more. You have to build up every day. We practice six days a week and have meets about every two weeks. When you finish a race, it’s a lot of work and you feel good about it.”