Cross country runner pushes on through tragedy

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Talia Swangler running in race at the Cross Country Championships. Photo credit: Gary Towne

Talia Swangler was raised in Paradise and attended Butte College after high school. She then transferred to Chico State before the start of her junior year. Less than three months after her transition, she was hit with tragedy.

The town she grew up in and her parents’ home she had recently moved out of was engulfed by flames. Swangler did not know for a while whether her house was gone or when she would be allowed to go back. She would go to her house in Paradise almost every weekend because it was so close to Chico and it was “home” for her.

She eventually discovered that her family had lost everything.

Throughout the most difficult of times, Swangler stuck with cross country. Two days after the fire, Nov. 10, 2018, she had a long conversation with her head coach, Gary Towne. He had told her that what she needed most was continuity during that time.

Swangler continued to go to practice every day. She did not take a break from it. However, Swangler has been running since seventh grade, so she was used to this.

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Talia Swangler has been on the cross country team for two seasons. Photo credit: Gary Towne

“I didn’t even realize it was affecting me, and then I asked, ‘What is going on in my life that’s making me miserable?’,” Swangler said. “Oh, well I did go through a trauma.”

The team had running practice destinations in Paradise that everyone loved. For a long time, the team refrained from going up there to run. When the girls go up to Paradise together now, however, they notice that the destinations have changed drastically.

While no other runner had experienced quite to the same extent what Swangler had gone through, her team served as a great support system.

“My team was something to hold onto and something that was steady throughout that whole process which was so up in the air,” Swangler said.

Despite everything that Swangler went through over the past year, she remained strong and continued to run like nothing was holding her back. During her first year at Chico State, Swangler set new personal records, placed in several meets, and won many awards.

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Talia Swangler has been a runner since the seventh grade. Photo credit: Gary Towne

Last year at the Hornet Invitational in Sacramento, she recorded an 18:04 5K personal best. Swangler also finished number 21 at her first CCAA Championship and was named the conference’s Newcomer of the Year. Not to mention, she earned two CCAA All-Academic Awards along with many other titles and rankings with her name on them.

A couple of weeks after the Camp Fire, the cross country team went to Regionals in Billings, Montana. Swangler mentioned that this was her worst race of the season, as she did not know what she was doing there after such intense weeks prior.

Then, two weeks after Regionals, the team went to Nationals at Humboldt State. With some extra time for Swangler to process things, she felt that she had something to run for. At Nationals, Swangler went from number seven on the team to number four.

“In the face of what I had gone through, I could make myself even more proud by doing well and being successful,” Swangler said.

In the future, Swangler wants to stick with running. She mentioned that she is excited to simply run for fun, not competition. Swangler also mentioned that she would love to coach a Girls on the Run team, a nonprofit organization that empowers girls from the ages of 8 to 13 through life skills and running. She is also open to coaching a small town high school cross country team.

Through all the ups and downs within the past year, Swangler highlighted the incredible community that she saw come together after the fire and how much people wanted to give.

“Tragedies bring out the best in people,” Swangler said. “I don’t think people will ever understand how much their actions meant.”

Karina Cope can be reached at [email protected] or @KarinaICope on Twitter.