For some, college is an opportunity to live in an unfamiliar place and have new experiences far from a student’s hometown.
For others, like freshman cross country runner Madison Zaun, attending a college close to home is just as exciting.
Zaun, from Allentown, Pennsylvania, is one of three runners on the Lehigh women’s cross country team from the Lehigh Valley area, including seniors Diana Hammerstone and Sydney Brannon.
Zaun said she did not feel the need to be far away from home and attending a university close to home is advantageous for her. Her close proximity means her family can attend and support her at every race, and it has also been beneficial to be familiar with the area, she said.
“It doesn’t seem like there’s a lot to do at first, but if you take a deep dive, the Lehigh Valley is actually fun and beautiful, and they are always improving things,” Zaun said. “We are actually a really good sweet spot between city and rural.”
Sophomore runner Martina Sell hails from Bangor Area, a town less than an hour away from the Lehigh Valley. She shared a similar sentiment as Zaun, remarking that attending a college close to home has made her experience more enjoyable.
She said having several girls on the cross country team who live close to Lehigh makes the team feel more like a family.
“My parents come to a lot of meets since I live less than an hour away, which I love and so do a lot of other families (who) live around here.” Sell said. “I think, since a lot of the girls on our team aren’t from far away, the parents are really bonding at meets, which is nice and makes our team closer.”
Junior Susie Poor said she loves that the team is heavily local — especially when she needs recommendations for fun activities to explore in Bethlehem and the greater Lehigh Valley when her New Hampshire-based family visits.
She said her local teammates introduced her to Dorney Park and Grim’s Orchard, which are two of her favorite spots now.
But the advantages of a heavily local roster extend far beyond Lehigh Valley excursions, Poore said. The local runners are already used to running some of the courses the team uses.
“Whenever we go on new runs during training or travel to new courses around the Lehigh Valley it’s really nice, because girls like (Hamerstone) and (Zaun), are always giving advice since they often ran there in high school and are familiar with the course,” Poore said.
Poore said she understands and appreciates many of the factors that drove her teammates’ decision to remain close to home for school, but finding a new city was personally the right choice for her.
“Going to school far away from home is good for me, because I needed to expand my views and the bubble that I was in,” she said. “I grew up in a small town and hadn’t seen much change in my life. I’ve done things here that I couldn’t have done in a small town in New Hampshire.”
As for Zaun, there is no rush to get out of the place she called home for the past 19 years — and the place she will continue to call home for the next four.
“I want to try something new eventually, but this does not have to be the time to do it,” Zaun said. “I am enjoying my time at Lehigh, and going somewhere different is something I can control completely after college.”