Athlete of the Week – Leah O’Connor

Two weeks ago at the Cross Country Big Ten Championship, Michigan State was not only able to claim the team title but also the individual champion, Leah O’Connor, as their own.

O’Connor has a history of success both on the cross country course and the track, and last week was named the Big Ten Cross Country Athlete of the Year. She is also currently the 2014 national champion in steeplechase.

Among all the media attention and recognition, O’Connor is as down to earth as ever and Last Leg host Alexa McCarthy caught up with her to talk about her future plans, late-night snacks and what she does when she’s not running for this Athlete of the Week feature.


What is your favorite Gatorade flavor?

“I like the white one, I think it’s arctic cherry.”

What is your pre-race ritual?

“I don’t have a specific ritual. I get ready to go and listen to music depending on my mood. If I need to listen to a pump-up song I like Lorde, I like her a lot. And if I need to just relax I listen to Jack Johnson.”

What is your favorite cross country memory?

“Honestly, it was the year I didn’t even race. It was my freshman year when I watched the team win Big Tens for the first time and my teammate, Emily MacLeod, won the race individually. I had no idea how legit college cross country was and how legit our team was before that race. I kind of had a rough relationship with cross country before that meet, but when I saw our team win the championship it just made me realize that cross country is awesome. From that point on it made me want to become a better cross country runner and ultimately my goal was, ‘One day I want to win Big Tens.’ So it’s cool because I was basically a baby but I knew what I wanted to achieve.”

What is your favorite track and field memory?

“The 2014 NCAA National Championship [where O’Connor won the national championship in steeplechase].”

What is your favorite place to run?

“This summer, I had a 10-mile loop from my house [in East Lansing] that goes through a wooded area that we call the ‘arbs’ over to Hawk Island and past Mount Hope cemetery. It goes by so fast and I do it by myself a lot of the time. Hawk Island is an especially great place to run.”

If you had to play a different sport at MSU, what would it be?

“I would play football so I can be on the team with my cousin!”

It is 2 a.m. on a weekend and you are just getting home, what food are you ordering?

“Oh goodness, sweets! I love my sweets at night. Cold Stone or something chocolatey, or frozen yogurt doesn’t matter.”

What do you want to do when you grow up?

“I want to keep running and whatever I do beyond running I hope it inspires people to just go after their dreams, so I don’t exactly know what that is going to look like. Ideally whatever I do, whether it’s journalism related, I would like it to involve running.”

What is your guilty pleasure TV show?

“Keeping up with the Kardashians. I eat dinner and just watch mindless television and I love it! It’s my time of the day where I shut my brain off and watch people act stupid.”

Do you have a favorite class you have taken at MSU?

“I’ve had some really good journalism classes. I took a class with Bonnie Bucqueroux, Journalism 200, and it was the first class that I learned to go out, put together stories, how to interview people and how to work on editing. I love video editing, so it was cool to feel like an actual journalist and Bonnie was awesome. I struggled at first because it was a lot of stuff that I did not know how to do but she helped me out with that, so that was kind a turning point for me and journalism.”

What is your favorite thing to do when you are not running?

“I’m really outdoorsy. I like to be outside so just going on adventures. If I’m not running I stay busy. My boyfriend makes fun of me because I work so hard at running and school, but even on my days off I have to do something. I go to pet stores, I go to the ledges [at Grand Ledge], I go all around and try to see new things.”


Be sure to check back next Wednesday for the next Athlete of the Week feature.

Alexa McCarthy is the host of Last Leg for Impact Sports