Athlete Spotlight: Tarai Zemba ‘17, Cross Country Adventurer

By Natalie Camrud '17Staff Writer

After a successful season, with both men and women ranking 1st at the SCIAC Cross Country Championships, Scripps freshman Tarai Zemba reflects on her first year on the CMS cross country team.

Q. When did you first start doing cross country/ running? A. The summer before my freshmen year of high school. My school had an athletic requirement and contact sports were really not my thing so I decided to train for the XC team.

Q. What made you want to continue cross country in college? A. I really wanted to challenge myself, and I thought it would be a great way to meet people as a freshmen. Running culture is also just great, it’s nice to have people around you who you can vent to about how hard your run was or why you felt like crap or why your eight-hard-mile run was the best thing in the world.

Q. Do you get along with your teammates? Have y’all bonded a bunch? A. OH MY GOD YES MY TEAMMATES ARE THE MOST AWESOME HUMAN BEINGS EVER THEY ARE SO SUPPORTIVE AND WONDERFUL AND FRIENDLY AND HILARIOUS AND WEIRD AND I LOVE THEM WITH ALL OF MY HEART. They are also very speedy. The team is very close-knit, which I think is what makes it so successful. Everyone genuinely wants everyone else to have a good race, which I love, as opposed to my experiences in high school where there was a LOT of team competitiveness and everyone secretly (sometimes not so secretly) wanted everyone else on the team to fail so they could be the star.

Q. Do you get addicted to running? Is it like a love-hate relationship? A. Totally!! It makes you feel so wonderful. Endorphins obviously play a big part in that. It also makes you feel very accomplished. Like even if I’ve gotten no schoolwork done today, at least I did those five miles! The pain obviously plays into that love-hate relationship, but ultimately it makes you feel that much prouder when you’re finished.

Q. You took a gap year! Tell me a little bit about it. Did you run while you were taking your gap year? A. Yes! Running while I was abroad was the one aspect of consistency that I could maintain while moving from place to place every weekend. It gave me a sense of comfort and stability. It was also a great way to explore an area.

Q. Any funny/interesting stories about running or cross country? A. I’ve gotten lost A LOT running, which can be super scary and exciting at the same time. When I first arrived in China during my gap year program, my friend and I got lost running around the city for about an hour and could not ask anyone for directions or read any signs because everything was in Chinese, which neither of us spoke. In Ecuador, when I was living with an indigenous tribe among a cacao/plantain farm, I would go for runs along a dirt path and have to pass these really scary guard dogs that would chase after you and bark very ferociously. They were honestly the most terrifying things ever. I would sprint by every house that had dogs, which I guess in retrospect was a good way to push my pace/training, but I would always say a little prayer rounding the corner to a house known to have guard dogs, praying that they would be inside so they could not bother me. One day a dog bit my thigh and drew blood. It was obviously painful and I let out a shriek, but the people who lived in this community were quite passive, and just watched from their backyard, and didn’t ask me if I was ok or anything. So I ran home and got really worried I was going to contract rabies. Running alone in India was a bit scary, as was running alone in South Africa.

Q. Do you think you’ll continue running cross country in the future? Why or why not? A. Strictly speaking about the team, I’m not really sure at this point. On the one hand, I’m in love with the team and have made some amazing friendships because of it. I love the challenge of the workouts and being pushed and supported by my teammates. We also go on some really incredibly beautiful runs up in the mountains early in the morning, watching the sunrise. Those are amazing, the best way to start the day. However, college athletics is definitely a huge time commitment, and although I will always continue running and want to maintain the friendships that I have made with people on the team, I may want to keep my time open so that I can explore other clubs on campus, because the Claremont colleges offer so much to its students and I want to take advantage of as many opportunities as I can. Plus 5:55 a.m. practices are really awful.