Thanks to an annual sports day in elementary school and a physical education teacher who saw her potential, sophomore Poppy Tank chose to run, and that led her to the University of Utah, where she is now a vital piece of the cross country team. Hailing from Plymouth, England, Tank took interest in running at age nine, and the coaching staff at Utah is thrilled that she did.
“My P.E. teacher said, ‘You’ve got a natural ability to run, why don’t you go try at the local running club?’” Tank said. “I went alone, and I hated it at first. It was so scary, everyone was so much older than me and they were all so fast, and I said, ‘I don’t want to do this.’ But I guess I grew to love it.”
As Tank flourished in the sport, it was the support of her mother and her involvement in Tank’s training that helped her grow that love. Living across the Atlantic Ocean, Tank is now far away from home, but she retains that close relationship with her family. In addition, she has been able to create a family connection with her team at Utah.
“The coaches, they saw my potential,” Tank said. “And we talked about what I want out of my running by the end of college, and we just built up a really good relationship really fast.”
Since Tank has become a Ute, she already has multiple accolades after just one year of college under her belt. Tank ranks eighth all-time at Utah in the outdoor 5,000 meter run (16:37.48) and ninth in the indoor 3,000 meter run (9:39.88). Tank also earned 2016 cross country all-region honors, and she was Utah’s third scorer at the 2016 NCAA Championships, helping the Utes secure their 20th place finish by placing 110th overall.
Moving into her sophomore campaign, Tank is picking up right where she left off last season. Head coach Kyle Kepler has seen Tank make more mental strides than physical ones during the jump from her freshman to sophomore year.
“She’s used to being in the United States and understands what doing the U.S. university thing’s all about,” Kepler said. “So it really seems like it’s being done with more ease, with less stress, and I think just that by itself is going to allow her to take another step forward.”
Tank feels that she has worked towards taking that next step forward by realizing the team aspect that makes up cross country. She knows the importance of being surrounded by a team that competes for each other.
“You’ve got to really work together, especially in cross country, it’s such a team event,” Tank said. “You can individually do really well, but if you don’t run together and you don’t all get yourselves up there in the front together, then your team will not do well.”
With the experience Tank has at the collegiate level, she has realized that she is looked to as one who can help freshmen on the team adjust to life in college. Being an international student, Tank has also been a positive benefit for her teammates who are from other countries as she helps make their transition smooth, so they, too, can feel at home on new soil.
Utah currently has runners from four countries outside of the U.S. on its roster. Freshman Bella Williams is from Digby, England, and Cara Woolnough is from Brisbane, Australia. Sophomore Anna Busatto calls Treviso, Italy, home, and senior transfer Louise Mercer comes from Edinburgh, Scotland.
“All the internationals, we just kind of group together a little bit, and we are there for each other when they need it,” Tank said. “But I think they are all doing pretty well so far. No one seems too homesick.”
Tank has grown into a mentor for new Utes and the international athletes on the team because of her hard work, dedication, family support and a P.E. teacher who saw something in Tank, something she didn’t see in herself.