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Eliana Berry

Durant's Eliana Berry competes in last fall's Mike Jay Invitational. Berry signed and enlisted into the National Guard on May 26. 

DURANT, Iowa — Eliana Berry wanted to push and better herself.

The Durant cross country runner appears to have checked off both after signing and enlisting into the National Guard on May 26.

"I just loved the fact of bettering myself and pushing myself for the physical and mental aspect of it," Berry said.

In a year from January, Berry will join the Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) program at the University of Dubuque with the hopes of later becoming a Judge Advocate General (JAG) officer in the National Guard.

"I was kind of shocked at the beginning, but good for her, more power to her," Durant boys cross country coach Andrew Hermiston said. "Not many people want to do that."

Berry listed three factors as to why she chose the University of Dubuque.

"One, the ROTC program's really great, it's not that far from home and I was able to run cross country and track there," she said.

First, Berry has her senior year of high school to finish, including this fall's cross country season.

Since taking over the program a year ago, Hermiston and Durant girls cross country coach Tracy Tappendorf have developed a culture that encourages the runners to push themselves and test their limits.

They've even gone as far as implementing a challenge that awards the most frequent barfer on the team with a couple of prizes that Tappendorf's 8-year-old helped pick out.

"If we can make it fun and be less embarrassing ... it's just like everybody does it, we'll stand in front of you and there's a prize at the end of this," Tappendorf said. 

No runner on the team has embraced the idea of challenging oneself more than Berry, who had no shame in sharing that she won last year's barfing challenge.

She was also the only runner on the girls' team to compete at the state meet last fall, finishing 84th overall in 21 minutes, 53.7 seconds. 

Poor weather this season has limited the Wildcats to just two meets, but Berry has still found ways to continue to improve.

"I was excited to see Ellie enlisted (in the National Guard), and it's definitely showed during practice because she's pushing herself to do more push-ups, and she's had me videotaping for a push-up and sit-up challenge, so it's been nice," Tappendorf said. "She's been working hard."

That hard work has led to an opportunity to run cross country and track and field at the University of Dubuque.

"Ellie and I kind of talked because we contacted the cross country coaches in Dubuque and they looked at her records and were interested in her," Tappendorf said. "Within a week's time they contacted her and accepted her into the program, and they were excited that she was willing to be in the ROTC. They said they work hand in hand.

"Ellie's already had two weekends of drill, so she's getting used to wearing that ponytail up high and running with a heavy load on her back. She's continuing to work hard and prove that she can do it and become stronger because of it."

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