As the 2023 spring semester kicked off with a chilly winter whiff, Story Downing ’25 entered the eighth year of her running career. Between juggling meets on the track and the rigor of academics, the adept athlete has set new goals for herself — and her speed.
Born and raised in Kansas City, Missouri, Downing started her running career during seventh grade as a way to connect with friends and cross-train as a ballet dancer.
When she qualified for the Missouri State Championship Cross Country Meet in 2017, Downing’s coach saw her potential. Since then, the student-athlete has reached beyond her comfort zone toward maximum efficiency — demonstrated by running a personal best of 800 meters with a time of 2:16.72 at the Yale Springtime Invite in 2022.
Downing runs through the Columbia-Barnard Athletic Consortium, a collaboration that supports Barnard athletes competing with Columbia undergraduates in the Ivy League Athletic Conference and NCAA Division 1 Athletics — making Barnard the only women’s college to offer this opportunity.
With an intense schedule and the demands that come with being in a competitive environment, Downing has turned to her team to remain motivated. “I am pushed athletically by my teammates in a way I never was before,” she said. “When my whole team is thriving and setting personal bests, it's something I want to be a part of. It gives me an extra push to do the little things — like [working on my] core and stretches — and asking myself, ‘What can I do for the team today?’”
This year, the sophomore’s goal is to declare her major; she’s deciding between psychology and neuroscience and behavior. “I want to feel secure, happy, and at peace with my decision,” said Downing. “I am aware of the important junctures on the timeline [of] college athletics. Being a student-athlete has taught me resilience, which has shaped the way I handle academic stress.”
With a new season underway, the middle-distance runner will continue to rely on mental endurance to persevere on the track. “Practice [and training] isn’t as simple as ‘just running,’” said Downing. “It’s also about injury prevention or building [stamina]. Running calls for growing up, consistency, leadership, and self-discipline.”
Downing maintains the balance of being a Barnard student-athlete by making a conscious effort to get off campus and explore the City at least once a week. “My academics, athletics, and mental health each benefit from this,” she said. “I spend time with friends outside of the team, too. This way, I engage with the larger Barnard and Columbia community."