Upon first meeting Ellie Leather, she looks youthful and timid. After hearing her talk about the sport that motivates her with a passion that flows through her veins, one can clearly see the fiery determination that only comes from one so fiercely disciplined.
“She is stronger than she looks,” Bulldogs’ head cross-country coach Christine Engel said.
Leather is a sophomore track and cross-country athlete. She moved from Bristol, England to Fresno to compete at the highest level of intercollegiate athletics for a chance to make her mark in the running world.
“It has been the best decision of my life to come out here, because it’s made me more confident, more independent,” she said.
She has been competing since she was 9. Both her parents ran half-marathons. With a smile, she said she’s been running her whole life.
Leather is the great-niece of track legend Diane Leather, who was the first woman to break the 5-minute mile in 1954. Diane Leather, 85, passed away last week.
“Diane was a huge pioneer for the sport,” Engel said. “She led the way for women, in general, to break barriers that had never been broken before.”
Ellie and Diane had a very close relationship. Diane was very proud of Ellie, Engel said. It has been a difficult loss for Ellie, but she has a steely focus as she prepares for this year’s cross-country season. She is proud of her family legacy and is ready to carry on the tradition, Engel said.
When Leather broke the 5-minute mile for herself last winter, it was a big moment not only for her personally, but in her track career. Engel said that after an outstanding freshman year, Leather is poised to have yet another excellent season this year.
“I love being here at the university,” she said. “Everyone is so friendly. I love all the people here. I love all the facilities here for athletics. That’s one of the reasons why I came out here. What they can provide us is amazing.”
It hasn’t been easy transitioning to Fresno. Leather misses her friends and her family most, but has a good attitude about only seeing them twice a year. She struggled in her first cross-country season, but pushed herself, knowing it was going to be hard.
Leather is modest about the work she puts into training and practices for competitions. She wakes up at 6 a.m., works out until 10 a.m., attends classes for the rest of the day and often has a second workout session in the evening.
She has not declared a major, but hopes to study kinesiology and use her degree to pursue a career in sports psychology. Although the US education system is structured differently than she is used to, she is managing her academics well.
“I enjoy the classes,” Leather said. “I mean, I wish I could just run all the time instead, but I enjoy it,” she added with a chuckle.
Engel said she was disciplined and trained hard this summer going into this cross-country season.
“I’m excited to compete,” Leather said. “I feel like I’m more and more determined now. It’s tough out here. The competition is tough. It makes you want to push yourself even more. My cross-country is definitely a lot stronger this season because I’ve been training hard.”
There’s not really an offseason for her. Indoor track season occurs in the middle of the cross-country season and then track follows. She prefers it that way, and said she always wants to compete.
Both she and Engel are excited for this upcoming season. The team has welcomed many new athletes.
“The team this year is really good,” Leather said. “There’s a lot of new people, a lot of freshmen, but everyone is really getting along. The team is so supportive. That’s why I like it out here. Even at practice sessions, people cheer each other on. I love going to practice. It’s a really nice group.”
This last track season she was really proud of herself. She brought her 1,500-meter time down from 4 minutes, 39.41 seconds to 4:32.44 and her 800-meter down to 2:11.16.
It is a big achievement for her to get her time so close to 2:10. She also made it to the finals at the Mountain West Championship for outdoor track.
Engel said she is very happy with the dynamic Leather has brought to the team. She is upbeat, positive and highly driven.
“I’m really excited about her future here,” Engel said. “She has a really bright future ahead.”