Carruthers clicks with Colonels
Vernon’s Tessni Carruthers knew there would be challenges in adapting to life in the Deep South.
There would be new faces, strange-sounding accents and high expectations awaiting the Vernon Panther grad as she entered her freshman year as a distance runner with the NCAA Division 1 Nicholls State Colonels in Thibodaux, La.
What she didn’t expect was a scare over a suspected heart condition, brought to light when she collapsed towards the end of a race in Waco, Tex. in late November. Nor did she consider the possibility that the coach that signed her would bolt mid-season for another track program.
Before her collapse, Carruthers’ doctors had suspected she had heart arrhythmia, something that runs in her family.
“I woke up in the medical tent, and ended up going to hospital because I just couldn’t keep any liquids down,” said Carruthers, of the Waco incident.
“It was kind of scary. I didn’t know what was going on, and I had never fainted before. Apparently I was just super-dehydrated and over-exerting. It was just a buildup of things.”
Forced to take a month off training while doctors monitored her condition, Carruthers then came back from the Christmas break to find Colonels’ head coach Scott Williamson had accepted an assistant coaching position with the University of Nevada Wolfpack. Replacing him was Heather Van Norman, a six-time All-American sprinter with the Louisiana State Tigers (1989-95).
“I wasn’t really very happy about that at the beginning because you sign to go somewhere because of the coach,” said Curruthers.
“That happens a lot in sports. You have to respect that, and with the new coach we got, I actually like her better.”
Carruthers admits it took a while to warm up to Van Norman’s coaching style, but soon realized having a female coach leading an all-girl track program was probably a good thing.
“I’ve never had a girl coach before in all the sports I’ve done. They kind of push you harder; she won’t take any of our crap,” said Carruthers.
“When she first came she was drilling us to the bone. I didn’t have a good indoor season, but she really got me into shape for outdoor season.
“She understands when you can’t do anymore, or if you’re injured, or when you can’t be pushed.”
While Carruthers collected multiple top-10 showings at various indoor meets last fall, it was in the spring outdoor season where she really started to show her potential.
Carruthers, a nominee for the North Okanagan Athlete of the Year (won by Vernon speed skater Connie Kapak), clocked the third-fastest mark (4:34.40) at Nicholls in winning the 1,500 at the Louisiana Classics. She was fifth-fastest in the 800 (2:16.59) at the Mississippi Open, and was the only freshman to advance to the finals of the 1,500 at the outdoor championships.
In team events, Carruthers struck gold with the distance medley relay team (comprises 1,200-m, 400, 800 and the mile) at the Louisiana State University Relays, setting a school record 12:07.70.
She also helped the Colonels clock a 9:11.79 to win the 4x800 relay, the second fastest time in school history.
In cross-country, she teamed up with senior runner Jessica McCleod to claim gold at the McNeese Relays in Lake Charles, La., finishing the 6,000-m relay in combined 20:20.
“We stack up against our competition pretty well when all the distance girls work together,” said Carruthers, who likes the close-knit feel of the Colonels’ athletics program.
“All the athletes hang out together because it’s a really small school.”
Carruthers admits to feeling homesick once in a while, but adds there are definite perks to living in Louisiana, namely authentic southern cuisine, southern hospitality and Mardi Gras in New Orleans.
“I really like gumbo and jambalaya. Even the cafeteria food – people hate on it – but I think the cafeteria gumbo is the best I’ve ever had,” she laughed.