Because track and field is more of a collection of individual events than a team venture, team building in the sport requires leaders with strong personalities. 

Hurdler and long jumper Michele Kaufman ’13, known as much for her dry sense of humor as for her athletic talent, has performed well in her efforts to lead the team, according to teammates.  

“Her personality is well-suited for track,” Olivia MacKenzie ’13. “She’s enthusiastic and brings the team together through a positive attitude and genuine concern for everyone.”

The teambuilding aspect of track and field was one of the draws of the program for Kaufman as well.

“Bowdoin track just seemed more interesting,” she said. “Our coach is pretty quirky. We’re not a traditional sports team.”

As a captain, Kaufman works with coaches to plan events like wheelbarrow races and water balloon fights. For her part, she makes a point to go to every event and cheer on her teammates. 

“She helps her teammates have fun at practice,” Head Coach  Peter Slovenski said. “She turns awkward moments on the team into comedy. She’s mentally tough and has a great sense of humor.”   

Kaufman started running relatively early in life and said she knew from the beginning that she wanted to continue in college. D-III offered the right amount of intensity she was looking for. 

Her coach has been thrilled to have her since the beginning.

“I called Michele up in June of her junior year in high school, and eventually I asked her what her favorite colleges were,” Slovenski said. “She said Bowdoin was her first choice. I put the phone down, and did a cartwheel in my office.”  

Slovenski remembers evaluating her athleticism at the All-New England level, but has been pleasantly surprised by the competitive spirit she showed once at Bowdoin. Perseverance, after all, is a requisite trait for hurdlers. 

“Hurdle practices can beat up a runner after a while,” he said.  “Michele has been ferociously attacking hurdles for four years, and she has the bone bruises and scrapes to prove it.”

The technique most hurdlers use allows them to clear the bar by as little as an eighth of an inch, and timing miscues can lead to physical punishment on their knees and ankles. Kaufman will jump anywhere from eight to ten flights (or full sets of hurdles), each practice. In other words, she often clears 80 hurdles each practice before switching to the long jump, an event she had not seriously competed in until this year.

Kaufman’s dry humor showed when explaining her choice of events.

“Maybe it’s because I don’t like running enough,” she said. “I like it because it’s a high-risk event. It’s complex and there’s always room for improvement because it’s so technical.”

Regardless, her work has finally brought her tangible success after coming close in previous years. In 2011, she came as close as she could to a NESCAC first -place finish in the hurdles before falling on the sixth hurdle, surrendering a commanding lead. A year later, she missed the NCAA selection cut by a single place. This year, Kaufman jumped the final hurdle last weekend and took first place in the NESCAC championship. She also broke a Bowdoin record in the long jump.

Kaufman’s sense of humor also manifests itself outside of sports. After not making the cut on Bowdoin’s improv comedy group as a first-year, she demonstrated the same resilience she has shown in hurdles and tried out again. She has been a mainstay in the club  from her sophomore year onward.

Kaufman also has an environmentally conscious mindset. She has dedicated significant time to being a part of the Bowdoin Green Athletes.

However MacKenzie said, “She doesn’t spread herself too thin. She knows what her interests are. Being a Green Athlete is incredibly important to her, and she practices what she preaches.”

The sports editor of the Orient chooses the Athlete of the Week based on exemplary performance.