Guest Post by US Mountain Running Team U20 coach and USATF Championship race director Paul Kirsch. Paul lives with his wife and dogs in Madison, New Hampshire.
Bethany Sachtleben was a member of the 2016 US Mountain Running Team that competed at the World Mountain Running Championships. She finished 18th which helped the US women’s squad win a team bronze medal. Her path to mountain running was the Collegiate Mountain Running Championships that took place as a race within the US Mountain Running Championships at Loon Mountain in July of 2016. She won the Collegiate Race and finished second in the USATF Mountain Running Championships. She is also an accomplished road, track and cross country runner, holding the George Mason University school record in the 10,000 meters and winning the silver medal at the Pan Am games in the marathon in 2019.
Since her time on the US Mountain Running Team, I have continued to follow her running adventures – which included her winning a Silver Medal in the Marathon at the Pan Am Games in 2019. Her adventures took a new turn this September – one that not every runner pursues: She worked as a ball person at the US Open Tennis Championships in Flushing, New York. I was able to catch up with her near the end of her work there to do this interview.
Paul: Many people move to ultrarunning but it appears you took a different path. Tell us how you learned about this and what made you decide to apply?
Bethany: I’m a huge tennis fan and wanted to go to all the US Open matches without paying $$$ for tickets so when I got an email about ball person tryouts I was immediately sold!
Paul: Do you have a tennis background?
Bethany: I played all through high school and had the opportunity to play in college but I was better at running so I went that route in college. I didn’t hit again until earlier this year when I was taking a break from running and needed a new hobby to fill my time and I’ve since realized how much more fun tennis is than running haha
Paul: So, how do you apply for this? Is there an audition or a tryout? Did you need to submit a resume?
Bethany: I applied for a tryout which included sending my resume, and once selected, I went to New York City for the tryout in July. Funny story, I had a trip to Europe booked and it overlapped with the tryout so I changed my entire Europe trip so that I could fly straight to New York city the morning of the tryout!
Paul: Do you have any idea how many people apply? And how many are selected?
Bethany: There were about 850 applicants this year and 150 were selected
Paul: How long was the typical shift you worked?
Bethany: I worked on one court until all the matches were finished, which was sometimes 11am-1am. I’d say most of my shifts were 7-9 hours.
Paul: How many people serve as ball persons for each match?
Bethany: There are either 4 or 6 people depending on the match
Paul: So, was it tiring? Are there expectations on how quickly you will retrieve a ball?
Bethany: It was definitely a little tiring but I was having so much fun that I didn’t notice. I got over 30,000 steps per day for 3 weeks! I definitely noticed that my running workouts felt a lot more difficult while I was in New York City, though.
Paul: How many balls do you end up retrieving in a single match?
Bethany: Hmm well there are at the very least, 48 points in a women’s match and when you factor in faults, probably 60-70 balls minimum.
Paul: How long did you do this?
Bethany: 3 weeks
Paul: Are there specific clothing requirements and did they provide you the clothing?
Bethany: They provided us with Ralph Lauren shirts, skorts, socks, and shoes.
Paul: Did you get to meet and talk to any of the competitors?
Bethany: We weren’t allowed to ask for autographs or film the players, so unfortunately not!
Paul: What’s the best memory you have from it?
Bethany: I loved working the week of qualifying matches where the players had to win 3 matches in order to qualify for the main draw of the US Open. The players in the qualifying draw were obviously really good but not quite good enough to get into the main draw so it was really fun to see their excitement when they made it and watch them celebrate with their family and friends
Paul: Would you do it again?
Bethany: YES. It was an amazing experience and I can’t wait for next year.
Paul: Back to running for a final few questions. You dipped your toe back into the mountain running world, when you competed at the USATF Mountain Running Championships at Whiteface Mountain. Which was more fun, Whiteface or the US Open? And what are your next planned races – roads, trails?
Bethany: Well, the US Open didn’t make me want to cry the way Whiteface did lol, so no offense to Whiteface Mountain but I’d have to say the US Open was more fun. I’m planning on a winter marathon and haven’t chosen any tune-up races yet but I would love to get back on the trails this fall!