Our Stories

Natalie Muren: Runner at Heart

Natalie Muren '06 lives by the motto "Once a runner, always a runner." She followed it in high school, when she ran around the soccer field before deciding to try cross country. She followed it while on Willamette's track and cross country teams, despite dealing with a painful stress fracture in her sacrum, the triangular bone located between the two hip bones, which left her unable to train or compete for two years.

She overcame that difficulty to rejoin her cross country teammates in the fall, only to suffer re-injury before track season. But she continues to follow her motto, talking of how she hopes to join a running club in Pasadena, Calif., when she goes there this fall for graduate study at the California Institute of Technology.

"I have all these dreams of coming back and running with people at Willamette who I've wanted to run with but couldn't," Muren says. "Instead, I've been cheering them on from the sidelines. We all talk about wanting to come back in 10 years and run a race together."

Muren's running talent -- along with her academic strength -- has earned her a prestigious NCAA Postgraduate Scholarship worth $7,500. She is the fourth member of Willamette's cross country or track program to receive the award in the past two years.

The sacrum injury was difficult for Muren, who took five trips to the national championships in cross country and track and field and twice earned All-West Region honors in cross country. The pain became so great that she couldn't run at all. She took about 10 months off from her passion, going biking or swimming instead. But the draw of another cross country season her senior year brought her back to training.

"Trying to get back into shape was really hard because I hadn't been able to run much and my body just couldn't take it," she says. "My coaches, Matt McGuirk and Jimmy Bean, were amazing at helping me take the training really slow so I could build up gradually."

But sports aren't everything to Muren. Thanks to several of her passionate science teachers at McNary High School in Keizer, Ore., she developed a strong interest in chemistry. She double majored in chemistry and Spanish, and spent her last two summers conducting molecular biology research at Princeton University and at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, Sweden.

As a sophomore, she was named a Barry M. Goldwater Scholar, an honor given to students in the fields of mathematics, natural sciences and engineering. This year, she also received an honorable mention for the National Science Foundation's Graduate Research Fellowship Program.

"Natalie is a true problem-solver who likes to discover the next big question," says chemistry Assistant Professor Sarah Kirk, who has worked closely with Muren. "She is a conscientious and hard-working student, and I am confident that she will make great strides in the field of chemistry."

Muren enjoys studying the way chemistry and biology relate, looking at the chemical side of biological questions. She plans to pursue chemistry in Cal Tech's graduate program. She has been highly involved in Willamette's Chemistry Club, visiting local elementary schools to teach science to students.

"We just do a lot of combustion reactions that look really cool and exciting," she says. "We're trying to get them excited about science. I also think it's a big issue to show them that females can do science, too."

Muren's love for interacting with others could lead her to become a teacher once she finishes school, although that is just one of many possible careers she is considering. "I like research, but I also like working with people and explaining ideas. I could totally see myself teaching. But I have very diverse interests, so I hope to be involved in a lot of different things."

No matter where she ends up, Muren knows what she'll be doing in her free time. "There's just something about running and finishing a race and doing really well -- there's just nothing else like it," she says. Once a runner, always a runner.