Danielle Page’s running career started innocently. She joined a cross country team with a friend in middle school and found that she enjoyed being outside running through the woods. The individual nature of the sport also appealed to her.
“What I had never liked about other sports as a kid was that one team was trying to beat the other,” she said. “You were purposely trying to inhibit someone else’s performance in order to make yours better. In running, that was never a concept. It was just they’re going to do their thing and you’re going to do your thing and whoever does their thing faster wins.”
Several years later, now a junior at Tufts University, Page’s “thing” has often been faster than others. She has developed into one of the top distance runners in the nation. Last fall she recorded Tufts’ second-best finish ever at the NCAA Cross Country Championships. She then ran the third-fastest 5K time in the country for the indoor season.
She’s had to deal with a few obstacles along the way, including the shutdown of the track and cross country seasons since last March due to coronavirus. However, she has learned at Tufts to embrace the competitive aspect of the sport.
“She is as tough as nails and she hates to lose,” Tufts women’s cross country and track & field head coach Kristen Morwick said. “Yes, she’s talented. Yes, she works hard. But I think the biggest thing is her level of confidence in herself. She trusts her training and trusts herself. The lack of self-doubt when you get on the line is so huge for a distance runner.”
At the Governors’ Academy in Byfield, Massachusetts, Page was the #1 runner on the cross country team for her sophomore through senior seasons. She also broke the team’s indoor mile record. Coach Morwick didn’t necessarily consider her a must-have recruit though.
“She was definitely a solid runner in high school, but it was more recruiting her on potential than anything else,” Morwick said. “I wasn’t sure how much of an impact she’d make, but we were hoping she’d develop into something pretty good.”
Page wasn’t originally sold on Tufts either. She wanted to leave the state for college, and running competitively didn’t have to be part of the package. She was more interested in studying architecture and sustainability, and started her search there. When Tufts came up as an option, a family friend advised her to take a closer look.
She reached out to Coach Morwick and began a correspondence that would ultimately benefit both.
“I continued to look at other schools, and from looking at other schools they all just eventually dropped away for one reason or another,” said Page, who was applying Early Decision. “I didn’t like the location, or didn’t feel like I meshed well with the girls on the team or the coach. At the end of the day when it came to that early decision deadline, Tufts was the one that was there.”
Though she didn’t know it at the time, Morwick was getting a runner who would become one of the top distance performers that the program has ever had.
“She has surprised me, I’ll be honest,” Morwick said. “I always thought she would be a tough competitor, but never expected her to be this good.”
Page’s friendly competition with senior teammate Sabrina Gornisiewicz - who had just joined the squad after coming to Tufts as a swimmer - helped fuel her outstanding sophomore season in 2019.
At NESCAC’s, Page was the runner-up and Gornisiewicz finished third. The next weekend at NCAA Regionals, Page was again second and Gornisiewicz placed fourth to lead the Jumbos to a seventh-straight NCAA Championship berth. Then at Nationals in Louisville, Page’s sixth-place finish was the best by a Tufts runner at the NCAA cross country meet since Leslie Crofton placed fifth in 2000.
“Given how sloshy that course was, and it was cold and rainy, it was a pretty amazing performance for a sophomore who had never run at NCAA’s,” Morwick said.
Two weeks later she was amazing again at Boston University’s Sharon Colyear-Danville Invitational to open the indoor season. Page ran a 16:51.97 time in the 5,000 meters that stood up as the third-fastest mark of the season for Division III. In late February she won the 5,000 meters at the New England Division III Championships despite not going all-out. She and the coaching staff had agreed on that game plan to save energy for the national meet.
Unfortunately, disappointment was right around the corner. On March 11 Page got on a plane bound for Winston-Salem, North Carolina with hopes for a high finish at the NCAA meet. However, less than 24 hours before the race was scheduled to start, the meet was canceled due to coronavirus.
“We played the indoor season super conservatively,” Page said. “The goal of the season was Nationals, so that made the cancelling of it even more devastating knowing that I had rested and been conservative all season so that I could run it.”
Page hasn’t faced outside competition since winning that New England DIII 5K race in March, but that hasn’t slowed her down. The Jumbos ran a 5K outdoors for a virtual competition in October and Page finished with a 16:40.8 time. Though it was unofficial, the time is right there among the best in Tufts history.
With the 2020-21 cross country and indoor seasons canceled due to Covid, the team is hoping to have spring competition. Page’s love of her sport has helped her stay positive during this challenging time.
“I feel really lucky to be in the sport that I’m in given the situation in the world right now,” she said. “Even if there are no meets, I can always run on my own. Even if I never have another race my entire college career, I still want to be running after college and continue to improve. When I go out and run, it’s probably the best part of my day no matter how the run goes.”
Like most students during the pandemic, Page is uncertain about what’s next. The cancelation of seasons has given her eligibility to use in the future. She’s considering the possibility of running for a Division I team while going to graduate school. Perhaps that could lead to a career in running. She’s also passionate about architecture and sustainability, her major at Tufts (see video below).
Whichever path she follows, running will remain a constant in her life in one way or another. She’s learned to enjoy the success she’s had at Tufts - and hopes to have more. However, it’s the purity of the sport that remains the most important part to her.
“The times are nice and the accolades are nice, but I’ve always loved the grind and the process,” she said. “Getting through my mileage every week has been a joy in itself. I still have the part of me that really is just there for the process and there for the fun.”