KEENE, N.H. 9/13/11 – There was a collective sigh of relief emanating from the Wilks’ household in Burnt Hills, N.Y., last spring when daughter Riley, the youngest of Rick and Carolyn Wilks’ three children, decided to join her older brother Chance at Keene State, a small liberal arts college in southwestern New Hampshire.
“We felt it was the best place for her, and the fact that Chance was already there made it even better," said Carolyn.
Having both siblings at the same school was not only reassuring from a support perspective, but would also make it much easier for the Wilks to see their kids compete for KSC’s cross country and track teams.
Supportive parents, the Wilks have literally run around following the running careers of their children, including an older son, Bryce, who ran at William and Mary College in Virginia. “They laugh at me at work because I’m always in the car going somewhere, but I wouldn’t have it any other way,” said Carolyn. “If you have kids, you might as well go watch them compete.”
Because Burnt Hills relied on parents to transport their kids to meets, Carolyn would have a vanload of boys or girls and five or six parents for the long trips that took them around the Northeast, from Manchester, N.H., to Rochester, N.Y. When Riley’s cross country team qualified for the Nike Nationals in Portland, Oregon, the Wilks hopped on a plane and made the trip to the meet.
Once at the meet, the Wilks had plenty to cheer about. Following in the footstep of their older brother, Chance and Riley had standout running careers at Burnt Hills. Chance had a breakout junior season for the Spartans, posting a PR in cross country (16:38) and winning the first of his two steeplechase sectional titles on the track.
The new kid on the block, Riley made her presence felt as a freshman at Burnt Hills, joining a Spartan team that finished second at the regional race at Bowdoin Park in Poughkeepsie and fifth at the Nike Nationals. “It was overwhelming and exciting, because I was the new person on the team,” said Riley, who helped the Spartans make a return trip to the national meet the following year.
When it came to deciding on a college, Chance picked George Mason University in northern Virginia. He wouldn’t be too far from his brother and would compete in the same Division I conference. Despite making the GMU cross country team, Chance's running career took a temporary wrong turn when he got sick. “Everything you can get, I got,” he said.
Instead of staying at George Mason, Chance decided to leave. Keene State showed up on his radar when he looked at the list of the top ranked Division III cross country teams. “What’s not to like about Keene?” said Chance. “I liked everything I heard about it and it had my environmental science major, so it was the perfect fit.”
Chance's negative experience with a larger school had a bearing on Riley, who also decided to attend Keene State. “I visited a few schools, but they were nothing like Keene State,” she said “I just felt more comfortable here.”
There was one last thing she had to do before finalizing her decision. “I asked Chance’s permission,” Riley said. “I didn’t want to go to the same school as my brother if he didn’t want me there.”
“Some people might be skeptical about having a sibling on campus and on the same team, but I live off-campus and only see her at practice,” said Chance. “She’s good at handling things herself.”
“It definitely makes me feel comfortable knowing that if I need anything, he’s here,” said Riley. “It’s not a big deal, but it's nice having him around.”
Still not fully recovered, Chance never hit his stride in his first season with the Owls. By his own admission, he had trouble translating his strong workouts into race performances and was eventually forced to the sidelines by a late-season foot injury.
This season has provided Chance and Riley with a fresh start. Chance is finally healthy and Riley is looking forward to getting her Keene State running career off to a good start.
Keene State cross country and track coach Peter Thomas has high hopes for both Chance and Riley. “You can see the potential," said Thomas. "I wouldn’t be surprised if both are running with the varsity team this season.”
Riley joins a Keene State team that includes 13 freshmen. “I’m going to try to make the varsity, but you never know what can happen,” said a cautious Riley.
Chance's high expectations extend from the trails to the classroom. “I don’t know if my mom took me seriously, but I told her I’m getting a 4.0 this semester,” he said. “That’s my goal.”
Carolyn says she’s abandoned her van for a more cost-efficient car. “As soon as Riley graduated from high school, we got rid of the gas-guzzler and got a smaller car,” she said. “I didn’t need to transport them around anymore.”
The van, however, would’ve come in handy last weekend when the Wilks clan was in Keene to watch the Alumni Invitational and celebrate Chance’s birthday.
Carolyn admits old habits die hard. “I wasn’t planning to go to this week’s meet,” she said. “But I’m getting in my car and going to Bowdoin College.”