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Jennifer Nelson

Once a Viking, Always a Viking

Head Coach, OCC Cross Country 

Awards/Honors: OCC Athletic Hall of Fame 2016 

Accolades:  NJSTARS Recipient | Team Captain Cross Country | National Champion | Female Athlete of the Year | Most Valuable Player | All Academic | All American | All Conference | All Region Bachelor of Science Degree | Biology, Monmouth University 2012 Doctor of Physical Therapy Degree | Stockton University 2015 | Graduated with Distinction 

Research: Presented at the American College of Sports Medicine World Conference 

Full-Time Job: Physical Therapist working in an outpatient orthopedic setting 

Ocean Views asked Jennifer, “What has OCC sports meant to you and what impact has OCC made on your life as an alumna and now head coach of the Viking Cross Country Team?” The following is her heartfelt answer. 

“When I say that Ocean County College completely changed my life, I am not exaggerating. It was, hands down, one of the best decisions I have ever made. Academically, I received an excellent education that laid the foundation to eventually getting my doctoral degree and landing my dream job as a physical therapist. And financially, the decision was seemingly a no-brainer. What surprised me the most, however, was the huge impact that joining the Cross Country Team would have on my life.  

I was always an athlete growing up. I was a state champion soccer player and ran track since I was in middle school. Out of high school, I was being recruited by a four-year university to run track but as soon as I got my first bill, my parents refused to let me take on so much debt and pushed for me to do the NJ STARS Program. With that, I found myself at OCC. 

Going into my sophomore year, I was really starting to miss being a part of a sports team. It was then that I found out that OCC was starting up a cross country team and was looking for runners. I was not sure about it at first. I had never run cross country before and felt that I was so busy with my studies that there was no way I could balance everything. But my mom, who is always right about everything, convinced me to join the team. 

Everything that season was new to me, and I learned as I went along. I had a great coach in Eddie Baynes and had some great teammates that I still talk to today. Once we started competing, I instantly fell in love with the sport. I was surprised that I was doing really well and was winning a bunch of races. 

Before I knew it, I was the region and national champion and my team was winning the national title. That instantly opened the door of opportunity, and I was contacted by some great universities to transfer to and run for once I graduated. When I chose to attend and run for Monmouth University, it was an easy decision. I continued to receive a great education and accomplished more things with running, including winning multiple conference titles; making my way into their record book; being named captain, MVP, and Female Athlete of the Year; and earning a spot at the NCAAs (National Collegiate Athletic Association). 

Running became part of who I was as a person, and I continued with it even after college, with things such as representing the country in a race in Jamaica and running the Boston Marathon. Perhaps, the best thing I was able to do with running was come back to coach the team where I first got my start – Ocean County College. It is an absolute honor to coach for OCC, and it feels like I have finally come full circle. It is so special because I see myself in lot of the athletes, and I want to help them all reach their full potentials and open up opportunities for their futures like it did for me. 

Looking back at where I started and where I am now, I could not be more satisfied with the way everything panned out. I achieved a degree that I once thought to be impossible and now have a career that I love in physical therapy. On top of that, I get to continue following my passion in running by coaching young athletes at the collegiate level – something I always dreamed of doing. And, hey, not being in a ton of debt from my seven years of college is the cherry on top. I have Ocean County College to thank for all of that.”

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