Neither the men’s and women’s cross country teams nor Jason Potsander, for whom the award was named, were expecting the addition of a new award when they gathered for the annual awards banquet on Sunday, Feb. 9.In years prior, head coach Rustin Nyce handed out “The GCXC Heart Award”, but this year it was presented to one male and one female athlete under a new name: “The Jason Potsander Character Award”.
Jason Potsander is a 2001 graduate of Goshen College who has faced many physical challenges in his long history of running. As a student, he competed on the cross country and track teams but in recent years a foot injury has kept him confined to his bike. Still, no challenge has stopped Potsander from doing the impossible in his life and leading with contagious positivity.
“I felt like it [Potsander’s work ethic and example] was a very good, tangible example for what I want our distance runners to do when there’s adversity,” Nyce said. “Naming that after him is a reminder of the way that he deals with the negative situations, controls his attitude and effort. He’s optimistic and works really hard.”
Nyce hopes that Jason’s story shows his athletes that the team can approach uncontrollable situations similar to the way Jason Potsander does.
Throughout the adversities he has faced, Potsander has been determined to create meaning for himself, even if that requires doing “the hard work of processing the darkness and breaking through to the light.”
Potsander said, “this meaning [we create for ourselves], comes through our pursuits, be it running, or some other sport, or visual arts, writing, music… in the end, it is the process that really matters.”
The recipients for this year’s Jason Potsander Character Award were Sierra Ross Richer and Juan Perez, two athletes who have been working through continued injuries and have had a long process to get back to running.
“It’s hard not to pity myself when I can’t run,” Ross Richer said, “but Jason’s story reminds me that the injuries I’ve faced really aren’t that big of a deal compared to what other people have to go through.”
Ross Richer also runs for the track team. She is currently tending to an injury and hasn’t been able to run for a few weeks, but that doesn’t stop her from coming to practice and translating the track training to the stationary bike.
Potsander’s story is inspiring to Ross Richer because she said that “Jason reminds me that just because I can’t run, that doesn’t mean I’m not an athlete and doesn’t mean I can’t work toward my goals and dreams.”
Perez was also motivated by Potsander’s words, and it added a new meaning to why he runs.
“I’m not just doing it for myself,” Perez said. “I run for those who cannot run anymore and would love to, and for the one up high.”
“I talk about controlling your attitude and effort in any situation.” Coach Nyce said, “and Jason has been given a lot of negative situations that he’s approached with a positive outlook and controlled his attitudes and actions in a very positive way.”
Potsander felt humbled and honored that Coach Nyce named this award after him.
“It can seem almost self-centered at times.” Potsander said, “but seeing my perseverance and positivity affect others buoys my spirit so much toward life.”
Potsander is currently undergoing chemotherapy treatment for stage IV metastatic pancreatic cancer, but that doesn’t stop him from training for a gravel bike race this spring.
“At the end of our lives,” Potsander said at the cross country banquet, “our race times, our money, our achievements will mean little compared to the people we’ve become.”
“Our effect on others will be known through our sincerity, our commitments, priorities, compassion, and love that we share with our circles of influence.”