When Broadneck High School graduate Lynn Kurchock came to Anne Arundel Community College this fall, she imagined herself blending in with a large number of women runners on the cross country team. Some would be former All-County performers, she thought, and others would be newcomers who were looking to get in shape.
She never expected to be representing the entire women's side.
When No. 1 runner Janine Macmillan quit the team last month because her job made it difficult to attend practices and meets, Kurchock, 19, assumed the top position.
She had no choice. She was the only other female runner.
"We had a lot of girls coming out, but some had jobs and others weren't ready because of school. They didn't want to start yet," she said.
Kurchock was destined to become the No. 1 female anyway, judging by her finish in the Howard County Invitational on Sept. 18 -- the Pioneers' second meet of the year. She placed sixth out of 35 runners on the 3.2-mile course with a time of 22 minutes, 30 seconds. Macmillan had trouble with the slick footing and came in seventh at 22:46.
One week earlier, at the Montgomery-Rockville Invitational, Kurchock took 15th on the 3.1-mile course at 22:11 -- five places behind Macmillan, a first-team All-Region XX selection and honorable-mention All-American last season.
Without Macmillan, at the Bergen Bulldog Invitational in New Jersey two weeks ago, Kurchock posted her fastest time, 21:15, and took third out of 31 runners. The next weekend, on a 3.1-mile course at Frostburg State, she ran 21:18 to place 20th out of 100 competitors. Macmillan had finished at 22:02 on the course last season.
On Saturday, Kurchock ran her best time, 20:59, on the 3.1-mile course at the University of Maryland at College Park, even though she had a case of tonsillitis. She was 47 seconds faster than her time there last year while running for Broadneck.
"She's very consistent," said coach Jim Fontaine. "It's always in the 21s. She runs the same pace and has great endurance. She lacks strength and speed, but she can just lock into that pace and go forever."
Kurchock said she was upset when Macmillan left, but not because of how it would affect her competitively.
"I came out here to run for myself. Even if there wasn't anyone on the team, I'd still run," she said.
"It's just that, when we go on these overnight trips, I have to sleep in the hotel room by myself. It would be nice to have someone to talk to who could relate to how I feel. But the guys here are my friends and we do group activities. We went bowling the other night, so I'm not left out."
Fontaine said the guys on the team are "trying to behave themselves. They're minding their manners. They like her. They respect her."
Dave Oster can relate to Kurchock's worries of feeling like an outsider. Having moved here from Colorado, he also has been trying to fit in comfortably with his teammates.
"We like to make her feel like a part of the family. She's a big part of the team and we're all proud of her," he said.
Kurchock ran cross country and indoor and outdoor track at Broadneck for three years. As a senior, she was the only Bruins female to qualify for the state cross country championship.
The Cape St. Claire resident said that while running, she often thinks about her former coach, Gerald Kiple, and one-time Bruin Jeanne Rimar -- who attends the University of Illinois.
"They were always there for me and they're still there," she said. I look up to them. I even write to Jeanne and keep in touch. She gives me little pointers."
Fontaine has been giving the 5-foot-3 runner some advice on nutrition. Kurchock weighs just 85 pounds, and Fontaine says, "I can't tell you how many people have asked if she's anorexic.
"I don't think she has a disorder, but she could probably improve on her diet and nutrition. She has a very high metabolism. I'm hoping to put her on a weight-training program so she'll gain a little more weight. Because she's so small and doesn't have that strength, she's limiting herself right now. If she was a little stronger, she would drop her times and go up one more notch."
Kurchock calls herself a "good eater" and says the most she has ever weighed is 93 pounds last year.
"I come from a small family," she said. "I'm not ashamed of my weight. I'm a runner. I'll get up in front of everyone and tell them. I've always been on the thin side.
"People assume I'm anorexic; I hear that all the time, and I don't care. I know I'm a runner and I'm built like this. I haven't missed a day of school since the third grade. I'm as healthy as can be."
Fontaine thinks she would be a healthy addition to any of the area's four-year schools. "She's a shoo-in to make first-team All-Region XX," he said.
"She has really upped our spirits by doing so well. She gives us somebody to cheer for."