By Matthew Sewell, NAU Media Relations
FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. - Trying new things has never been an issue for Agnes Laurent, so when opportunity came knocking in the form of Northern Arizona cross country, the middle distance runner from Belgium welcomed the challenge.
Traditionally a competitor in the 800-meter run, Laurent is getting accustomed to competing on the cross country team to begin her two-year stretch in Lumberjack gold.
"Cross country in America is quite a bit better than it is in Belgium, so the transition has been fairly easy," said Laurent. "The courses in the U.S. aren't muddy, and the conditions are generally a lot nicer."
Laurent comes from a family of athletes, and being the youngest of four children born to Christian and Beatrice Laurent helped her develop a love of competition very early on. All three of her older siblings competed on a high level in their home country, so Laurent always had motivation to succeed herself.
Laurent's older sister, Astrid, the most accomplished of her siblings, was a Belgian gymnastics champion in 2000, and often speaks highly of her younger sister.
"Agnes started running when she was seven years old and immediately loved it," said Astrid, whose twin, Martin, is the only other middle distance runner in the family. "She discovered [competitive running] when I was doing gymnastics, and decided to start running more seriously, settling on middle distance races when she was 13 or 14."
Laurent's running career was successful from then on, and with the help of Martin's club coach, she was constantly pushing herself and improving. In 2006, Laurent competed in the Belgian Junior Championships for the first time, placing second in the 800-meter run.
Over the next four years, she notched three more third-place finishes in national meets. Two came in the Belgian Indoor Championships (800-meter, 2007; 1,500-meter, 2011) and one at the Belgian U23 Championships (800-meter, 2009).
Laurent credits her family for always supporting her throughout her career, but has a special place in her heart for the unwavering support from her mother, Beatrice.
"My mom has come to every race I've ever run, and she probably still doesn't know my personal best time," said Laurent, with a laugh. "I have always appreciated that she and my dad never pressured me to succeed, but always supported me in whatever I did."
Aside from the athletic prowess of Laurent and her family, it seems that smarts and academic achievement are genetic as well. Her father and both brothers are engineers, her sister is a nutritionist, and Laurent herself has a bachelor's degree in architecture from St. Luke's Higher Institute of Architecture in Brussels.
Although Laurent enjoyed her college experience in Belgium, she admits she is thankful for her eligibility to compete in America and attend NAU for two years.
"It was very difficult to keep up with training while I was completing my degree in Belgium, mostly because the school didn't endorse any athletic teams," said Laurent. "It's been very nice competing here because I've been able to focus on school and training at the same time."
Laurent has come to appreciate many aspects of both NAU and Flagstaff, and most of those things drew her to northern Arizona in the first place.
"I have been hearing stories about Flagstaff for a long time from friends who have trained here for the Olympics and the World Championships," she said. "They all talked about the scenery and all the great places to run around here."
Being a part of the women's cross country team has also helped ease her transition to the States.
"All the girls on our team encourage each other to do well, and I've really enjoyed being able to practice with a team on a regular basis," said Laurent. "In Belgium, I was used to practicing all alone, so the extra encouragement has been really nice."
She seems to also be having an equally positive impact on the team.
"Agnes has been a great addition to the team," said fellow junior Kortnee Burton. "She is a quiet leader, but is always encouraging and works really hard."
Burton and the rest of her teammates have also gotten to know some of Laurent's talents off the track as well.
"Agnes is an amazing cook — her waffles are delicious!" said Diego Estrada, the leader of the 13th-ranked men's team. "She always has a smile on her face and has been a great person to get to know this year."
Laurent seems to be transitioning to life in Arizona after just a couple short months, and her stock as a cross country runner is rising with every passing day. She has already solidified her spot as a consistent scorer for the women's team in the three meets she has run for the Lumberjacks.
One could say she has been taking her challenges in stride.