Julie Dion-Choiniere not only has the distinction of being the first women to compete in an intercollegiate cross country race for the Owls, but also the honor of becoming the first female cross country/track runner to be inducted into the Keene State Alumni/Athletic Hall of Fame.
Dion-Choiniere came to Keene State in the fall of 1978. A running prodigy from Bristol, Vt., who captured both the state and New England mile champion as a senior at Mount Abraham Union High School, Dion-Choiniere quickly, sought out the then KSC running coach George Bower about joining the women’s team.
When told that the College did not have a woman’s program, Dion-Choinere replied “you do now.”
Initially invited to run and compete with the men’s cross country team that included Hall of Fame inductee and fellow Vermont native Larry Sayres ’83, Dion Choinere went on to become the cornerstone of the KSC women’s cross-country and track program.
“They were incredibly supportive,” said Dion-Choiniere of the men’s team. “They all took turns running with me and made sure I was able to get back to campus with out getting lost.”
“Julie was very competitive regardless of the level of competition, said Bower, who coached the Owl track and cross country teams from 1978-81, she’s the type of runner you build a program around.”
A member of the first varsity women’s cross country team at Keene State, Dion-Choiniere won her first race, the Codfish Bowl, and later placed a very respectable 19th at the All-New England Championships where she was the first Div. II-III runner to cross the finish line. Later that year, she placed ninth at the AIAW regional meet and just missed earning All-America honors at the national championship. Dion-Choiniere qualified for the nationals the following year and unfortunately suffered the same fate when she fell just seconds shy of All-America.
“It was extremely disappointing not receiving All-America, said Dion-Choiniere. “It was difficult to tell where I was positioned in the races and I didn’t have a coach to spot me and give me a little boost.”
Equally efficient on the track, Dion-Choiniere ran a sub-five minute mile at the Fitchburg Invitational and qualified for the 1981 NCAA Outdoor Track Championship in the 5,000-meter event.
“Sometimes you have competitive runners, who are not good team runners,” explained Bower. “Julie was not only competitive, but a role model for her teammates with her high standards.”
“Julie led by example,” said Robin Briggs-Rolli, a member of the initial women’s cross country squad. “She cared how her teammates did and wanted the team to be successful.”
“Coming from a small high school, I never thought I would accomplish so much at the college level,” said an appreciative Dion-Choiniere. “As an athlete at Keene State I could’ve asked for more support.”
Dion-Choiniere, who earned her degree in early childhood education from the College of Lifelong Learning in Concord, presently resides in Concord with her husband Vint and sons Matthew and Michael.
This will be a special year for Dion-Choiniere, who will not only celebrate her hall of fame induction, but also rejoice in her son Matthew starting his first semester at Keene State this fall.