Lydens excels on and off track
Pomona junior earns intership with U.S. State Department
Annie Lydens is not your typical American college student.
The junior distance runner from Pomona College was not born in the United States, but in Japan to American parents. Lydens' father is a trader in the Asian mart, and her family has lived in either Japan or Singapore for the past 21 years.
America -- Lydens' "home" country -- was really just a place she came to visit her grandparents.
"For me, America was basically where Grandma lived," Lydens said. "It wasn't a country I felt particularly attached to and I don't think I really identified with being American."
The only blond girl in her Japanese elementary school, Lydens stuck out like a sore thumb, but it didn't bother her. She eventually attended an international school, and met other American children in the close-knit ex-patriot community.
"I definitely was around other Americans, but all of the kids were like me -- they moved around a lot," Lydens said. "I got really good at making friends because people circulated in and out after one or two years."
Lydens played soccer for her high school in Singapore, and was recruited by the track coach because he needed a good runner to fill out his relay lineup. She ran several events for the team in order to score points, but never specialized in anything particular.
Most of the students Lydens went to high school with planned on going to college in the U.S. or United Kingdom, and she planned on doing the same. Lydens had scheduled a tour of U.S. colleges, but was bitten by a mosquito while playing soccer and contracted dengue fever. She was out of school for a month, and the trip was canceled.
Her sister was going to college in California, so Lydens was interested in being relatively close to her. Unfortunately, she was going to have to make a sight-unseen decision.
"I chose Pomona based on the pictures on the web site," Lydens laughed.
It may have been the enticing photos that swayed her decision, but Pomona is a strong academic institution and great reputation. It is ranked fourth in the U.S. News & World Report ranking of the top liberal arts colleges in the country, and the intellectual Lydens fits right in. She has a perfect grade-point average through two-and-a-half years. Only three students in the past 10 years have graduated with a perfect average from Pomona.
While academics and adjusting to life in America could be challenging enough for most students, the always-moving Lydens also wanted an athletic endeavor to keep her busy. She contacted the Pomona-Pitzer head track coach Kirk Reynolds about joining the team. She told him about her experience overseas, and that she mainly had run the 400 hurdles and the 800. He suggested that she join the cross country team in the fall to get in shape, and though she was injured for most of her freshman season, she got to know the team, and liked being a part of it.
Reynolds went on a sabbatical for the 2010-11 season, but Lydens' good friend and 2010 graduate Alicia Freese took the reins of the team in the meantime. Freese was an All-American distance runner, and had won the 2009 NCAA West Regional title. With Freese by her side, it was Lydens' sophomore season when she learned that distance running was her calling.
"We started running together and things just started clicking for me," Lydens said. "I've been thoroughly enjoying my running."
"Alicia was keeping me in the loop on how workouts were coming, and I was following the race results," Reynolds said. "Annie just exploded in the fall of her sophomore year running super-fast times, and ended up winning the NCAA West Region cross country meet."
Lydens went on to place ninth at the NCAA Championship. She followed it up with a second-place finish in the 5,000 meters at the 2011 NCAA Outdoor Championships.
"The more races you run, the more you understand," Lydens said. "Kirk likens it to a toolbox.You have a lot of different things you can employ during a race. I think the most important thing is gaining confidence, so you know when to make a move in a race, or know you really belong. That was something that was unfamiliar to me last year."
Despite a neuroma -- a marble-sized bump that grows around the nerve -- between her toes during the fall, Lydens had another great cross country season. Lydens was able to engineer a fix with cotton balls and athletic tape that enabled her to run without constant pain. She repeated as the West Regional champion, and placed third at NCAA Championships.
"She exceeded all expectations in the fall despite running with a really painful malady in her foot," Reynolds said.
Lydens had the neuroma surgically removed over the winter, and is still recovering while ramping up on her mileage this spring. She has been back racing for the last month, and should be ready to qualify for nationals in the 1,500 and 5,000 meter races.
When she isn't excelling in the classroom or on the track, Lydens is building her résumé with various cultural experiences. In high school, Lydens did non-profit work in Cambodia, taught English in Bhutan and lived with a Maori tribe in New Zealand.
"Annie is a bit more mature than others, but she still has the bubbly laughter of a 20-year-old college student," Reynolds said. "There are two sides -- there's the high-achieving side and then there's the down-to-earth girl who is laughing and giggling at practice."
Last summer, she got a highly-competitive internship at the public affairs office at the U.S. Mission to NATO.
"It was an incredible experience to be working on the press side of things when NATO was having a huge mission in Libya," Lydens said. "It was a very intellectually challenging summer and really rigorous, but I really enjoyed it."
Lydens, who is attracted to a career in foreign service or diplomacy, will intern in Secretary of State Hilary Clinton's office this summer. She will be working on the 21st Century Statecraft project, dealing with how people-to-people and government-to-people interaction is changing with new forms of media and what diplomatic affects they have.
"She's a real doer," Reynolds said. "She's a high achiever, and really motivated. She sets her sights on things and gets after them in all aspects of her life."