While most student athletes find their way into sports through the route of peewee soccer or baseball, cross-country veteran Hailee Morisseau found her way to the sport through triathlon.
“I started in triathlon when I was in middle school,” Morisseau said. “I was introduced to running through there, and that’s really when I took a liking to running and started doing it as well as the cross-country and track programs.”
While the Portage la Prairie, Man. product played a few sports in high school, it was through running that she “saw the most success,” and she particularly preferred the community feel of the sport.
Morisseau explained triathlon and cross-country “were usually smaller groups, but very close knit, and I liked that aspect of it.”
After finishing high school, Morisseau went on to attend Lakehead University in Ontario because of its distance running program’s reputation.
After attending Lakehead for two years, Morisseau took some time off both school and running. Wanting to be closer to home, Morisseau came back to the Keystone province, where she started attending the University of Manitoba before she got back into competitive running with the Bisons.
“It was just the most convenient option to train with the team there,” Morisseau explained. “It was nice to be closer to home and tie it all back together.”
Morisseau has given a huge boost to the U of M’s cross-country team and has become a stalwart over the past two seasons.
In 2021, Morisseau placed ninth at the Sled Dog Open, hosted by the University of Saskatchewan Huskies, and 11th at the Stewart Cup, hosted by the University of Calgary Dinos. She was also named a 2021 Canada West Second Team All-Star with her 14th place finish at the 2021 Canada West Championships. Morisseau also ran a respectable time of 31:32.2 at the 2021 U Sports Championships race in Quebec City, Que., hosted by Laval University.
In 2022, Morisseau improved her finish at both the Sled Dog Open and Stewart Cup, finishing eighth overall and seventh overall, respectively. She was also named a 2022 Bisons female Athlete of the Week last November when she ran 31:18 in the U Sports Championships co-hosted by Dalhousie and Saint Mary’s Universities in Halifax, N.S. Morisseau shaved off 14 seconds from her 2021 race and recorded the best Bisons time overall in the event.
Morisseau considers the break she took between Lakehead and the U of M to be the recipe for her success with the herd, feeling that it “was really beneficial.”
“I never really expected to improve my performance a whole lot,” Morisseau said. “Just trying to not take it so seriously, and just focus on having fun and listening to my body a bit more ended up working really well for me.”
“Really listening to my body and trying to avoid injury and sickness for the most part, I think that can be attributed to a lot of my improvements over the years.”
As for not only braving the cold, wet and windy conditions in Halifax last year but thriving in the U Sports Championships race, Morisseau believes expecting the unexpected is her secret weapon.
“I really like the conditions when they’re a bit worse,” Morisseau explained. “I don’t take it as a mental hit. It gives me a bit of an advantage over some of my other competitors.”
“I think that just really is my vision of what cross-country is — it is miserable, it’s muddy, it’s unexpected.”
For Morisseau, facing the elements is what sets cross-country apart from other racing sports like track and field.
“There’s so much else that factors into a cross-country race, you never know what the conditions are going to be like,” she said.
With her final season of cross-country eligibility underway, Morisseau wants to focus on enjoying her last year as a member of the herd.
“I think my main goal, honestly, for this season is just to have fun,” Morisseau said, adding that she will be treating her training as a sort of stress relief as she enters a busy year of her master’s program.
As for cross-country post-U Sports, Morisseau is happy to see where her competitive running takes her.
“I definitely will continue running and keeping active to some degree,” Morisseau said.
“But I think I will just see what the opportunities will present.”