Engineered to Run
Keeping pace in class and on the field
Along with her schoolbooks, Dana Mecke crams granola bars, apples and either a peanut butter-and-jelly or a turkey-and-spinach sandwich into her backpack.
"I’m hungry all the time. I eat every two hours," Mecke says with a laugh. "My friends make fun of me because I have snacks in my bag all the time. I eat in class but make sure the snacks aren’t too crunchy so I won’t make noise."
The UTSA senior requires a steady supply of calories and carbs to fuel herself as she racks up about eight miles a day and 12 miles on Sundays to stay in top form as a decorated cross country champion.
In 2008, Mecke captured UTSA’s first Southland Conference individual conference crown in cross country since 1996 with a 6,000-meter time of 21:39, her seventh victory of the season. She also collected SLC Athlete of the Week accolades five times during the season.
On top of her athletic achievements, Mecke maintains a 3.89 GPA in mechanical engineering, a feat that led to her earning SLC Student-Athlete of the Year for women’s cross country and for indoor track and field last year. She also was named to the 2008–2009 Southland Conference Women’s Cross Country/Track and Field All-Academic Team, her third SLC All-Academic honor. When you ask the student-athlete about her accomplishments, Mecke merely shrugs her shoulders and smiles. "It’s an honor to get these awards," she says. "But I guess it just shows hard work pays off. If I’m doing the best I can, everything else follows."
Her discipline involves getting up at 5:30 a.m., which gives her just enough time to eat a bowl of oatmeal before heading out the door to meet her teammates for a run at 6:30. Later, they complete a 20-minute afternoon jog around campus in the heat of the day.
"You feel good when you run," says Mecke. "You get that runner’s high afterward. It’s fun to compete, too."
Cross country coach Scott Slade has worked with the 2006 Smithson Valley graduate since last year. He says he has never known Mecke to settle for mediocrity. "She’s the type of person who sets her mind to do something, and she goes after it," Slade says. "It’s the same thing in the classroom or anything else she does. Something else that I believe makes the biggest difference is that she’s not afraid to run with the guys. She accepts the challenge and runs with them a few days per week."
The honors continue to pile up for Mecke. She recently was named to the College Sports Information Directors of America/ESPN The Magazine Academic All-District VI First Team. She also garnered this year’s UTSA Academic Athlete of the Year honor and Pat Clynes Letterman’s Award, and is regularly named to the SLC Commissioner’s Honor Roll and UTSA President’s and Dean’s lists. Mecke is as devoted to her studies as she is to cross country. After a summer course on thermodynamics, this semester Mecke is taking 15 credit hours in classes that require some intense study time: Measurements and Instrumentation, Thermodynamics II, Mechanism Design, Mechanics of Solids and Numerical Methods.
"The mechanical engineering courses get harder each semester," she says. "I always enjoyed math, but I have to study a lot and make sure I don’t get behind. It’s definitely hard juggling track and studies. Whenever I’m not in class or running, I’m studying."
Mechanical engineering, she says, will allow her to help others.
"I want to design prosthetics and work with people who [have] lost limbs," Mecke says. "Mechanical engineering is so broad. I can also go into designing knee braces or a new type of hip replacement. Now I’m thinking about getting my master’s degree in biomedical engineering."
In her career path, Mecke is following family tradition. Mecke’s brother, Mark Jr., with whom she lives, also is a UTSA mechanical engineering major. Her grandfather and two of her uncles are mechanical engineers, while a third is an electrical engineer and a cousin teaches mechanical engineering at the Air Force Academy in Colorado. Mecke’s dad, Mark, earned a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from Texas A&M University. He recalls his apprehension when his daughter told him that she wanted to major in the same field. After seeing her grades, however, his doubts quickly vanished.
"She’s always been good in math and science," says Mark, a petroleum engineer for a local oil company. "We’re proud of her. We try to slow her down every now and then, but she has a fire burning under her feet. Ever since she was born, she’s been a driven and dynamic person. She could always outrun the boys and do more chin-ups than them. I think she did it on purpose just to beat them."
That drive propels Mecke on the occasions when she isn’t in the mood to run because she’s tired or needs to study for an upcoming exam. Like the champion that she is, she temporarily puts those concerns aside and laces up her Asics.
"A lot of things go through my mind," she says. "On easy runs, I’m able to plan my day out and think things through. On harder runs, I’m just focusing on finishing and getting through the pain."
- Rudy Arispe