Written by RJ Nealon
- ECGulls.com Contributor
BEVERLY, Mass. – It seems like a common trend. College students are drawn to Endicott for its internship program and the other endless opportunities that the college offers them. Will Connelly considers himself a kinesthetic learner, someone who likes to do things hands-on and loves to talk. The internship program at Endicott College caters to just that.
But how Connelly ended up in Beverly, Massachusetts, was a little nontraditional.
He was sold on the program, but all considering, he was hesitant to commit. He was weighing his options closer to home in Barrington, Rhode Island. It wasn't until he was at TF Green Airport traveling to move his brother out of his freshman dorm in Missouri when he became 100% committed to being a Gull.
"I had a conversation with a stranger at the terminal, and he asked why I was traveling alone and when I explained what I was doing he asked where I was going to school, and I didn't have an answer," Connelly said about his eventual decision. "He asked what I like to do, and the first thing I said was 'running' and he cut me off and said to go somewhere where I could do exactly that."
The next thing he did was text his parents, make the deposit and never looked back. On May 1, 2016, while traveling to Kansas City, he made his decision, a decision that would change his life for the better.
Now, at Endicott, studying Sport Management with a minor in Communication, Connelly stays as active as he can. Along with being a successful cross country runner, he is a resident assistant, orientation leader, tour guide, and also the President of the Student Government Association.
"Will's type of rigor is one of a kind; it is something I wouldn't recommend for everyone," head coach Spencer Lange said. "A lot of student-athletes sometimes feel they have to drop something to level things out. But, Will has worked through all of his responsibilities and handled things to the best of his abilities. I'm not surprised by how well Will has handled everything, however, as I've always had full confidence in Will to succeed despite his workload because of his maturity and follow-through in everything he does. His ability to communicate well while he navigates through all of his responsibilities without having to compromise anything also is a key factor in his success."
Being an active member of the college campus is essential to a student's success. Endicott is a very interactive and cooperative campus and one of the many things the college does well is it provides unlimited opportunities for students to get involved. Connelly said the skills he has learned through these opportunities are all unique in their own separate ways.
"All the credit goes to my supervisors for helping me perform a balancing act that I couldn't do alone, as the flexibility and support from Jeremy Krugh, Brianne McGann, Allison Heenan, and Coach Lange make it all possible," Connelly said.
THE IMPACT A MISSION TRIP HAD ON CONNELLY
During his senior year of high school, Connelly went on a mission trip with his church to Blessed Assurance, a Mustard Seed community in Jamaica.
An orphanage for kids and teenagers with severe mental and physical disabilities, with the majority confined to wheelchairs and most unable to verbally communicate, he made the most significant impact he could.
"I went with around 20 other members of my church community, my younger sister included, and spent six days working on construction projects throughout the orphanage while tending to the very basic needs of the residents such as spoon-feeding and wheeling them from point A to point B, while learning from them the whole time," Connelly said about his experience.
To think that Connelly only saw joy from everyone involved during the mission trip, including the kids and teenagers, is something he will never forget and always take with him throughout the rest of his life.
"To this day, I've never seen such happiness in a group then what I saw in them when we first arrived, and throughout the week," he said.
It's safe to say, it was a humbling experience for Connelly.
"You never know what other people around the world are going through," Connelly said. "It keeps me in check whenever I have to do something, especially when I have a lot on my plate with school, activities, and/or running."
INJURY STRIKES CONNELLY FRESHMAN YEAR AND THEN AGAIN, JUNIOR YEAR
College is supposed to be the best four years of your life, and it most likely has been for Connelly. But, what it also did was teach him how to overcome adversity.
He missed the majority of his freshman year with a left meniscus injury and then again, his junior year with a right patellar tendon injury.
You see, injuries happen; it is a part of sports, especially running. What Connelly struggled most with wasn't the competitive aspect of it, but it was transitioning his leadership skills more into practice than he ever had before.
He had to remember that the sport of running just isn't about placing in races and times.
"The biggest thing for me, especially after losing my XC season last year as a captain of a team with such high expectations for ourselves, was to remember that this is all bigger than running," Connelly said.
His role changed, as it would with an injured athlete. He was on crutches and couldn't move around much. He wasn't able to do the thing he loved.
"I had to recalibrate my attitude to best suit the team as a vocal leader, given that I obviously couldn't toe the line and be out there competing with the guys," Connelly said.
He struggled to watch his teammates run and not being out there with them. However, he takes pride in what the team was able to do with a season they could have easily thrown away.
"Will and I have a close relationship due to us being not only roommates but teammates," said senior cross country teammate Zack Heffernan, who is one of Connelly's five roommates. "His attitude was always positive last year, as he knew he had to work hard to get healthy so that he could run this year. He overcame adversity by putting in the work each day to recover from his injury."
He slowly began running again, starting with half-mile jogs in January before getting back into good enough shape to compete again, all in 11 months.
The thing is that even after all of his injuries, Connelly has remained positive and has continued to be a better team leader than he ever has.
SENIOR YEAR AND LIFE BEYOND ENDICOTT
So far this season, the men's cross country team has competed in five meets with the following results: "The Battle of the North Shore" (first), Endicott Invitational (third), York College Invitational (first), Keene State Invitational (13th), and Suffolk University Invitational (ninth).
Connelly has played a key role in the Gulls' successful 2019 campaign to date with three top-15 individual finishes and four top-50 individual finishes. His fastest 5-kilometer time this year was 17:22 at "The Battle of the North Shore" which was good enough for third place in the meet. Meanwhile, his best 8-kilometer time occurred on Saturday, October 19 at the Suffolk University Invitational (42nd overall, 28:21.4), which is important as the Gulls will compete in the Commonwealth Coast Conference (CCC) championship in another week on November 2.
"Will has had a fire burning this year that has been several years in the making. The challenges he's faced have pushed him mentally and physically, but that in and of itself has shown his true character," said Lange. "His resolve in having to hit the reset button multiple times during his career is inspiring. Will always has that next gear that he never doubted was there. He has done more than make an impact on our campus just with his running, he has helped define the values that are in line with Endicott and the growth of an individual among many areas of campus due to his vast involvement at the college."
As for Connelly, leaving the North Shore even after graduation isn't something he's quite ready to do just yet.
"I love the North Shore and would like to stick around for the next couple years while I get myself situated with whatever comes my way employment wise," Connelly said about life after school.
Wherever life takes him, he is excited about the opportunities. You can say he is a go with the flow type of guy. He doesn't stress about what's next or where that future holds.
"Being in my early 20's, I've always been attracted to a lifestyle of kind of putting up the sails and seeing where the wind takes me, and to keep sailing until I find myself somewhere where I'm happy and can establish the foundations for success," Connelly said.
It seems like the decision he made at the airport was the best one he had ever made. He's done everything he set out to do and more.
And, it all started with a love for running and a conversation with a stranger. One he never saw or heard from again.
(Photo Credit - David Le '10)