Brigid Byrne: Running in Her Mother's Footsteps
Sept. 25, 2012
By Matt Muzza
Navy Sports Information
Brigid Byrne will toe the starting line of the cross country course at the U.S. Naval Academy Golf Club for the final time next month.
Byrne, the captain of the 2012 Navy cross country team, will run against Army on October 13th in her last home meet and the 27th edition of the Army-Navy dual.
The first Army-Navy women's cross country Star Meet was held in 1986. A senior named Amy Donovan toed that same starting line on the golf course that Byrne would stand at so many years later.
Athletes who compete in the same sports in different eras at the Naval Academy share a special bond, as do all midshipmen dating back to 1845. But Brigid Byrne and the former Amy Donovan have more in common than just donning the same Navy cross country singlet.
They have the distinguished honor of being the first mother-daughter letterwinner pair in the history of the U.S. Naval Academy.
Byrne will not be the first female midshipman to graduate whose mother also graduated from the academy (she'll actually be the sixth), but no mother-daughter pair before featured two varsity letterwinners.
Amy entered the academy in 1983, in just the eighth incoming class with women, and was a four-year letterwinner on the cross country team. Her daughter, Brigid, enrolled in 2009 and has lettered multiple times in cross country and track and field.
"It speaks volumes about the Naval Academy and the product it puts out," head cross country coach Karen Boyle said of mother-daughter legacies. "It shows exactly what this institution can mean to a mother if she believes this is also the best place for her daughter."
Brigid's father, a Class of 1987 graduate, was also a letterwinner at the Naval Academy, which again leaves her in rare company of being the child of two midshipmen student-athletes.
Brigid's father is Bill Byrne, a three-year starting quarterback and a co-captain as a senior in 1986. To this day, Byrne's name can be found numerous times in the Navy football record book and he remains the school's all-time leader in career passing touchdowns with 29.
Bill and Amy were introduced by a mutual friend during their youngster year and began dating shortly after. The two began Naval careers as surface warfare officers following graduation and were soon married. Their first child, Brigid, was born in 1991.
Brigid would become a third-generation midshipman, as Amy's father, Francis Donovan, graduated from the academy in 1959. The family ties in Annapolis run even deeper as Amy's brother and Brigid's uncle, Tom Donovan, is a member of the Class of 1996. Also, Brigid's younger brother, Michael, is currently a plebe.
Even with all the family history at the academy, it wasn't guaranteed that Brigid would make the same college choice. She looked at a number of civilian schools before finally deciding on Navy in April of her senior year.
"No one ever pressured me to go to the Naval Academy or to stay in the Navy for years and years," Byrne said. "They were just adamant about me giving it a shot, giving it a fair shake. In the end it was an opportunity for a challenge I knew wasn't going to present itself again if I didn't take it. And I am so glad I did. I could not be happier."
By attending the Naval Academy, Byrne has garnered a better understanding of the lives her parents led before she was born.
"It definitely gives me some new perspective on my parents," Byrne said. "I have a total respect for everything they did. It was a lot harder in general and a lot harder for women when my mom was here. They've been through a lot in order to give me the opportunity to do something like this."
Not only is it special that Byrne attended the same school as her parents, but to also compete in the same sport as her mother takes the relationship to another level.
"It's so cool for me to be able to do the same thing and follow in her footsteps," Byrne said. "I'm so proud to be doing it. There's never been one second where I've been embarrassed or worried that I am becoming my mom, because she's a pretty cool person to become.
"She did something that paved the path for me all these years later. It just gives me so much respect for my mom and I am so happy to be a part of something that she was a part of as well."
Byrne's Navy athletic career got off to a fast start in her plebe year. She took ninth place in her first career cross country race and finished in Navy's top five all season. She placed fifth at her first Army-Navy dual meet and was Navy's top finisher at the NCAA Mid-Atlantic Regional Championship.
Her most noteworthy performance of her plebe year came at the 2009 Patriot League Cross Country Championship at Colgate. She was Navy's top finisher at the league meet, placing ninth overall.
Byrne was the first freshman in the conference to cross the finish line, earning the Patriot League Rookie of the Year award, as well as second-team all-league honors.
Her success in running would continue as the years went on.
As a sophomore, she earned All-Patriot League Second-Team honors by placing second in the 10,000-meter run at the league's outdoor track and field championship meet.
As a junior, she helped the cross country team win the Patriot League championship as Navy's second finisher and the ninth overall to again earn all-league honors.
Later in her junior year during indoor track season, she won the Patriot League 5,000-meter title, clocking a personal record of 17:03, the second-fastest time in school history. It was her first individual league title and she was eager to share the accomplishment with her coaches and teammates.
"Winning that race was a direct result of all the training I have received at this school," Byrne said. "It was a culminating victory and so many people helped me get to that point. I just wanted go around and hug everybody."
Byrne recalled times when a teammate would drag her out of bed when she didn't want to do an early morning workout and teammates pushing her in practice. She also attributed the win to Coach Boyle teaching her the correct running form and learning race strategy from All-American teammate Jess Palacio.
With so much experience already, Byrne is in a great position to have an outstanding senior season, beginning with captaining the cross country team.
"Brigid is a perfect captain," Boyle said. "She is very approachable and she deals well with all the different personalities on the team. She also sets a great example in the way she balances her nutrition, running and academics."
As captain, Byrne will look to ensure the women's cross country N-Star flag is still flying from the yardarm just inside Gate One following the October Star Meet.
She'll also help the cross country and outdoor track teams defend their Patriot League titles and will go for a second individual league title in the 5,000-meter run.
Byrne is especially relishing the opportunity to leave her mark on the cross country program and ensure continued team success.
"I am really excited to form the legacy that I will be leaving behind in cross country," Byrne said. "We have some of the nicest, down-to-earth, high-achieving people that you could ever ask for on a Division I team. Nothing will make me happier than coming back for homecoming next year and seeing a team that's still happy and successful and feeling like I had some kind of hand in that."
Making Byrne's athletic success even more impressive is her ability to balance it with a remarkable academic resume.
Byrne is an English Honors major, and Arabic minor, who holds a 3.9 cumulative grade-point average. She's earned a perfect 4.0 in four semesters, including the last three.
Byrne ranks 22nd in the Class of 2013 in Overall Order of Merit and is 12th in Military Order of Merit. She has been named to both the Superintendent's List and the Commandant's List in all six of her semesters at the academy.
The Patriot League began naming all-academic teams for all sports starting in 2010, Byrne's sophomore year. Since then, Byrne has been named to six Patriot League All-Academic Teams, earning the honor in every possible opportunity in cross country, indoor track and outdoor track.
However, her most impressive academic accolade to date is her CoSIDA Third-Team Academic All-America certificate.
Byrne was one of just 45 female student-athletes in the country from the sports of cross country, indoor track and field and outdoor track and field to earn Academic All-America honors last year. She became the third member of the Navy cross country/track and field programs to earn Academic All-America honors.
"The two (athletics and academics) definitely go hand-in-hand," said Byrne. "I don't think I would be able to focus on either of them without the other."
Byrne will actually do things like conjugate Arabic words in her head during tough 400-meter interval repeats on the track to help get her through the strain of the workout.
Conversely, a good, long mind-clearing run will help her be able to sit down later in the night and focus on hours of Electrical Engineering homework.
With graduation and commissioning looming, Byrne is hopeful to service select surface warfare, just like both of her parents. And in one more way of following in their footsteps, she expects to spend many years serving her country.
Her father is still active duty, 25 years after graduating from the Naval Academy. Capt. Bill Byrne is currently on shore duty in San Diego as the Chief of Staff of the U.S. Third Fleet. He has also served as the commanding officer of the USS Halyburton and the USS Cape St. George. Byrne's mother achieved the rank of lieutenant and served seven years in the Navy.
"I am going to stay in the Navy until I see a reason to get out," Byrne said. "There are so many opportunities in the Navy and I think people can sell themselves short by saying they want to be done after five years. I'd like to keep on trucking for as long as I can. It's a pretty good deal."
But before she enters the fleet, she'll run that one last home cross country race against Army.
Both Bill and Amy will be there to support her, with Amy watching closely as Brigid toes that very same starting line that she did so many times before.