June 7, 2012
DES MOINES, Iowa - When Andie Cozzarelli packed to leave for the NCAA Outdoor Track and Field Championships in Des Moines, Iowa, earlier this week, she took along more than just her shoes and NC State running uniform.
Her bags were packed with homemade treats like blueberry muffins and fresh-baked bread that Cozzarelli spent time making before she left early Tuesday morning. She also had a well-researched list of Des Moines-area restaurants that offer gluten-free menus. Soon after she and her teammates landed, she headed to the grocery store to buy perishables like sandwich meat, cheese and avocados to keep in her room.
They are all a part of the All-American distance runner's regular routine, ever since she was diagnosed with Celiac's disease - an adverse reaction to the gluten found in wheat and other grains - early in her sophomore year at NC State. The diagnosis came on the heels of two stress fractures, constant fatigue and dangerously low levels of iron that all played a role in a freshman season that did not live up to Cozzarelli's high expectations.
"I was expecting when I got to school that I would get better, with increased training and better focus," Cozzarelli said. "Instead, I got worse."
Since she's been on a gluten-free diet, however, Cozzarelli's running career has taken off.
In cross country, she was a two-time All-ACC and all-region performer and the Wolfpack women's top finisher in the last two NCAA Championships. Last year in track, she was second at the ACC Outdoor Championships in the 10,000 meters and earned second-team All-America in the event by finishing 13th at the national meet.
Tonight, after another strong season, she again will run at the NCAA Championship meet in the 10,000 meters at Drake Stadium, hoping to improve on last year's performance.
Not a bad career for someone whose goal was to play soccer at NC State, after leading Apex High School to the 2007 state championship.
After switching to cross country late in her high school career, Cozzarelli has been setting and reaching impressive goals. Earning first-team All-America honors was at the top of the list Cozzarelli taped to her bathroom mirror at the beginning of the school year. She's reminded of them every time she brushes her teeth, and recites them during her long training runs. And she's come close to accomplishing them all.
Cozzarelli has always been motivated to success, in both athletics and academics. She's closing in on a challenging degree in civil engineering, with a concentration in transportation and traffic design. After the NCAA Championships this week, she will return to her summer internship with Southland Industries, a mechanical contractor in Dulles, Va.
One day, she hopes to work for a transportation company. Only, of course, if she doesn't veer off her career path and open her own gluten-free bakery.
She's been working part time for a locally owned company that provides gluten-free goods for area restaurants and at Cary's Koka Booth Amphitheater for special events. That's where she's learned to make her own meals for competition, something vastly better than the rice cakes and peanut butter that she survived on when first diagnosed with Celiac's disease.
"Initially, I had no idea what I could eat," Cozzarelli said. "I did a lot of research. Luckily, I like cooking and experimenting with a lot of different things. It's something I would love to pursue when I get out of school."
For today, though, Cozzarelli is focused on earning her race. She's better prepared than last year, when she made her first trip to the championship meet. She's got a race plan and a time in mind.
"I'm really excited for this year's race," Cozzarelli said. "Last year, I had no idea what I was getting into. The coaches all told me I would be fine, but it was hard for me to believe. Now, I have a much better understanding of what I need to do.
"I definitely want to be a first-team All-American."