By Jackson Schulte
Hanging out at their polka-dotted East Street house, Emma Zimmerman ’18 and Emma Luhmann ’18, also known as The Emmas, are doing homework with their friends on a gorgeous September evening. I’m welcomed through the back door, and we opt to sit outside on their picnic bench to talk cross country, Grinnell, life abroad and the special bond between the two Emmas.
Emma Zimmerman and Emma Luhmann are in their fourth year at Grinnell, co-captains of the women’s cross country team, and are living together in the longtime women’s cross country house on East Street. The two have been friends since the middle of their first semester at Grinnell, and despite their different approaches to life at Grinnell and running, they seem to gel perfectly.
At the annual cross country picnic on their first day of their first year, Zimmerman approached Luhmann and asked, “You’re the other Emma, right?”
Luhmann gave a blank stare, until finally her father chimed in that yes, indeed, she is.
Also named Emma, little did Zimmerman know, the two were approaching their first days at Grinnell quite differently.
“[Grinnell] was just a really big transition from my high school,” Luhmann said. “I’m from a really small town [Dayton, Iowa], and a really small high school, so I guess coming to Grinnell’s campus where it’s so big and so diverse, with people from everywhere, it was a big shock for me.”
Zimmerman, on the other hand, felt like she’d found her place at Grinnell before she even arrived.
“I was excited. It felt very much like my place more so than my high school. I’m from the east coast … no one from my town knew what Grinnell was.”
Once settled into life at Grinnell though, the Emmas became close and never looked back. “By the time we went on fall break, we were pretty close. And a lot of that was facilitated by the team being like ‘oh, Emma and Emma,’ and just putting us together.”
Now that they are fourth-years reflecting on their time at Grinnell, both Emmas noted the impact the women’s cross country team has had on their Grinnell experience.
“I did things that I never would have tried, aside from running,” Luhmann said.
“I really love how inclusive and supportive our team is,” Zimmerman added. “You don’t have to be a scoring runner. You can play just as significant a role by boosting team morale, and I think that’s important.”
On the cross country course, Luhmann and Zimmerman have shared plenty of successes as well. They won a conference championship their first year, and last year they finished third in the conference and Luhmann and Zimmerman were the sole all-region honorees on their team.
When asked about conference this year, both Emmas paused and smiled.
“I love conference,” Luhmann finally said. “We won conference my first year and it was one of my favorite experiences at Grinnell. I was crying. I think everyone was crying. We all work so hard and spend so much time together. … I think winning together is an amazing feeling and I hope that happens this year.”
However, Luhmann does not want to define her final season by whether or not the team wins conference. “I think winning conference would be great, but I feel like it’d be added. I don’t think losing would mean we had a bad or wasted season,” she said.
Zimmerman nodded in agreement, and added, “This season we’ve talked a lot about how different people have different goals and relationships with running, and respecting everyone’s reason why they do it and who they are. I also think what will make this a formative season is just a team that clicks. Creating a strong, cohesive team environment feels like success.”
As Luhmann and Zimmerman gear up for a new season, they also seem to have a different mindset about running and Grinnell after their time abroad. Luhmann spent the spring semester in Copenhagen while Zimmerman was in Costa Rica. Each used their time abroad as a way to evaluate their personal relationship with running.
“I really looked at my time abroad as a time to explore different parts of myself because I know this part of me. I know this person who runs all the time and focuses on staying fit,” Luhmann said. “So I ran when I wanted to, and if I went weeks without running at all, it didn’t really phase me. It allowed me to develop a healthy, less obsessive relationship with running, and I’ve brought that back with me. It’s already made this season so much more enjoyable for me.”
Zimmerman’s relationship with running is different.
“For me, running is a love of mine. Even before it was competitive, when I was little, I’d just run because I love it,” she said. “I kind of woke up every morning wanting to run. But it was also good to realize that ‘yeah, I really do still do this because I love it.’”
Now that The Emmas are back on campus, have practiced for a few weeks and are moved into their polka-dotted house, they both seem relieved to be back.
“I think going abroad made us appreciate what we have at Grinnell so much more,” Luhmann said.
The final unifying part of their Grinnell experience, they said, is going to be living in their house on East Street. There have been generations of women’s cross country runners living in their colorful home.
“It feels more meaningful. We aren’t just living in an off-campus house, we’re living in ‘the house,’” Luhmann said.
Needless to say, Emma L and Emma Z, as they are affectionately called by their teammates, are ready to start their season. The women’s team runs in their only home meet of the season, Les Duke Invitational, on Saturday at 10 a.m. at the Grinnell College Golf Course, with the men’s race following.