While leading Oregon girls cross country captain’s practices, senior Julia Hutchinson brainstormed ideas for a community service project and the Oregon Food Pantry came to the forefront.

So this summer, the Oregon girls cross country team logged 160 community service hours every Wednesday, planting, weeding, harvesting and preparing produce at the OFP community garden. As safety precautions, team members wore masks and socially distanced as they worked.

“We wanted to help in the community and give back,” said Hutchinson, who spearheaded the community service project with the OFP. “We really wanted to keep it close to home. Some of the members on the team are minors, so we couldn’t work in the food pantry.”

The team planted tomatoes, onions, green beans, carrots, lettuce and sugar snap peas in raised beds, and also planted and coordinated the planting of squash, cucumbers and a variety of plants.

Hutchinson said the turnout from the team was good, with at least 10 members at a time in the garden each week.

“I know we are all busy with summer jobs and other commitments,” she said. “We could get things done fast and really make a difference.”

Oregon girls cross country coach Doug Debroux credited Hutchinson for her leadership in coordinating the community service project.

“She is a go-getter,” Debroux said. “She made this all happen. All of the credit has to go to Julia.”

In between running miles this summer, Hutchinson said the opportunity to work at the OFP’s garden was a learning experience.

“It was really cool not only to help the community, but to see the full circle of planting,” she said. The opportunity to work in the community garden also paid dividends in team building for the Panthers amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. Many team-building and group activities were prohibited by Dane County’s restrictions on gatherings, which have been limited to 25 people or less outside and 10 or less indoors.

“A big part of running is working together toward a common goal. It (gardening) really helped with our team bonding,” Hutchinson said. “The garden created a really safe and rewarding experience.”

CC season postponed to spring

High school fall sports, including cross country season, were canceled by the Badger Conference on July 30. Oregon, like many teams in the conference, is planning on pushing the cross country season back to the spring.

Last year, Hutchinson helped lead the Panthers to a second-place finish in the Badger South Conference, finishing 16th in the conference meet, running the 5,000-meter course in 20 minutes, 48.4 seconds.

“I’m trying to keep my expectations in reality,” she said. “I don’t want to disappoint myself. I think it’s really important to keep pushing ourselves and motivating each other.”

Hutchinson has struggled with shin pain in the past, so this summer she has been doing cross training and biking once or twice a week.

“I wanted to cross train so it was not as painful,” she said.

College plans

Hutchinson plans to run cross country and track and field in college. So far, she has looked at four colleges in California -- Pepperdine University, the University of San Francisco, Chapman University and Occidental College -- and three in Florida - the University of Miami in Miami, Florida Atlantic University and Nova Southeastern University.

She has already visited Pepperdine, Chapman University and Occidental College, and is planning a trip to Florida.

Hutchinson said she’s hoping to visit the three schools in Florida in October depending on COVID-19 restrictions.

“I’m applying at UW-Eau Claire as a backup plan,” she said.

Hutchinson plans to major in exercise science and later get her doctoral degree in physical therapy.