Ms. Crainer reflects on her running experiences


Dawn Crainer, 4th grade teacher at Hackley, has been a runner all her life. She has competed on numerous teams and participated in many races over the course of her career. Her love for running began during the Presidential Physical Fitness Test in elementary school. During this test, where students had to complete a number of activities and challenges, Ms. Crainer received much praise from her teachers regarding her speed in the 600 yard dash. She then went on to run at the varsity level in 7th grade, competing as one of the top runners on the team. She also ran for an outside club team called Yonkers Striders and even competed in the Junior Olympics. She looks back on that time in her life fondly:

“I remember this one race, I think it was in North Carolina, [where] we had to run up this hill and it was so steep. I remember I had to crawl to get up this hill because it was just so muddy you would just fall down if you didn’t use your hands and your legs. (*chuckles) That was fun.”

Ms. Crainer’s experience of running at the varsity level was special. In terms of the actual process of getting on the team, she described it as “just like the 8th graders [at Hackley]”. This means passing a specific fitness test, and once that occurs, you are eligible to be on the team. Regarding the actual feeling of being on the team that young, she states, “I never felt like there was a pecking order.”

She explained that because cross country is so focused on times, a lot of decisions regarding the sport are made based on that. She continued, saying that things such as who gets to run varsity and even who the coaches put in for certain races all depends on time. She still feels as though she was treated very well by her peers despite the age gap.

“I feel like everybody was very respectful of me. When I first joined, I think I was the only younger person. But the following year, there were some other 7th graders when I was in 8th grade. And we actually became known as what was called the ‘Kiddie Corps’. Because we were younger, but we were doing really well.”

One of the most memorable races Ms. Crainer had been a part of in high school, took place in the spring of 1985. She was running the DMR (distance medley relay), and ran the lead-off leg (1200m). According to Ms. Crainer, “[For relays], if you have two or three good people on a team, [but] you have a weaker leg, then you’re not at the top. But if you can have four good people [on a relay team], then you can do really well.” For that race in particular, she and her teammates did just that, becoming third in the country for that DMR.

Following her successful high school career, Ms. Crainer decided to continue running in college. Regarding this decision she states, “I don’t even think I thought about not running when I went to college. It had just been such a part of my life, that I decided that’s what I was going to do.” She explained that the University of New Hampshire was really good at providing an academics-athletics balance and that she had an immense amount of respect for the University of New Hampshire coach. Ms. Crainer described the coach as “a woman who was really a pioneer in fighting for equal rights for women in athletics; [such as] making sure [the women’s] budget had as much money as the men’s teams.” Ms. Crainer ran twelve seasons at the University of New Hampshire; she ran cross country indoor and outdoor every year.

One of the more recent chapters in Ms. Crainer’s running career has been coaching. She is a coach for the Cross Country team in the fall and the distance/mid distance Track team in the spring. She has been doing so for around 15 years and says that the Hackley running program has grown tremendously over the course of her time here.

Her reasons for continuing to run and even coaching remain the same over time. She loves the outdoors and loves the people. There’s no better way for Ms. Crainer to spend an afternoon than in the woods with her sneakers on her feet and running through the trails. And no better people to share it with than some of the people she has been able to meet through the sport of running.

“Whatever phase I’ve been in my life, I feel like runners, whether they’re cross country runners or track runners, are just so supportive of one another. It doesn’t matter if you come out and are running a 4:30 mile or a 13 minute mile. As long as you’re out there and putting in your best effort, everyone is going to cheer for you and want[s] you to get better.”

In terms of what lies ahead for Ms. Crainer’s running career, there are a variety of possibilities: “I’m back on the track right now doing some workouts, and I feel pretty good. So who knows? I want to try to race on the track again. [Quarantine] has given me the time to get back on the track, so maybe something will come from this. We’ll see.”

Ms. Crainer feels very blessed to have running in her life. She describes herself as being given “a lot of opportunities in [her] life [because] of running.” She is a first generation college student who was able to attend college because of running. Running has also given her a way to further engage with the Hackley community through coaching and training with other faculty members.

She describes the above experience with the utmost gratitude, stating “More recently, in social isolation, I’ve been able to run with some Hackley faculty members. While we can’t run side by side on the trails anymore, we can go to the track and run there. We are [around] 30 meters apart, but doing the same workout, so I find that motivational. Just to have other people who are there for you, cheering you on and keeping you to your word.”

Ms. Crainer is an important part of the Hackley community in a number of ways. She has been at Hackley for 24 years, loved by her students for her patience and positive demeanor. She has taught every grade in the Lower School, and is currently a teacher for the 4th grade. For Upper Schoolers, she is a beloved Cross Country and Track and Field Coach and an integral part of the Hudson Scholars program.