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True Grit: Liv Murray
Sara Courtney

This story is part of a series called Seniors On the Move, which are intended to be a look back and a look ahead, while capturing a moment in time. If you know of a senior you think should be featured in this series, please email


Back in Grade 7, Liv Murray ’24 put together a PowerPoint presentation for her parents. Was it about curfews or a weekly allowance or screen time limits, or any other matter of urgent importance to a young teen’s heart? No. This presentation was on more significant matters. Liv Murray, you see, had been dutifully playing tennis from the young age of five, ever since her parents signed her up for lessons. The problem, as she saw it, was that she was not very good at tennis, and perhaps that affected her affection—or lack thereof—for the sport. However, there was one particular part of it that she did enjoy: running.

“When we would have conditioning and they made us run, suddenly I was beating all the older kids,” she recalls. “And I was like, ‘ooh, this is fun.’”

Liv wanted to run. She was determined to run. And if there is one thing about Liv Murray, it’s that when she sets her sights on a goal, she is not going to give up. So what if she had been playing tennis since she was five? “I never really loved it,” she admits. “But track—from the first time I started in sixth grade—immediately, I just loved the sport. Having to miss it was heartbreaking for me.” So when practice for track conflicted with practice for tennis, and her parents told her the longtime tennis lessons would be prioritized, Liv set about putting together a meticulous presentation.

She made her case. She appealed to her parents’ pragmatic side by pointing out they would save money with no more tennis lessons. Then she addressed her parents' concern for all the newfound time she would suddenly have without tennis. “I wrote out how I was going to spend my time with running,” she explains, “how much time I would be running, how much time I would be lifting for running, and then also, I would spend this much time now reading extra books to make up for the time that I wasn’t going to spend playing tennis.”

Finally, Liv got to her main point: she wanted to win.

“I pointed out how I was a lot better at track than I was at tennis,” she says. “I wrote out, ‘These are the races I’ve won so far after one year [in track], and these are the tennis matches I’ve won [in tennis]’—which was an empty list. See?” she said of the stark contrast.I’m a lot better at this. If I put my time into this, it will turn out a lot better.”

Turn out a lot better is an underestimation. Liv will be attending Columbia University in the fall, running for three seasons on their Cross Country, Indoor Track, and Outdoor Track teams. She no longer needs a PowerPoint presentation to prove herself.

“I’m just a very competitive person,” she explains calmly, “and because I was naturally good at it, I loved the thrill of winning.” Once Liv—with her friendly demeanor that belies an unshakeable belief in her ability to win—sets her sights on a goal, there is simply no stopping her. “I caught the competitive bug,” she recalls thinking, “and now I’m the best at my school. And now—I want to be the best in the county. And best in the state.” At this, she pauses. “I just went with it from there.”



When Liv was in Kindergarten, she was cast in the school play Peter Pan. With the starring roles going to the big kids—the second-grade students—Liv and the other Kindergarteners were relegated to chorus roles. “I wanted to be Wendy so badly,” she says, “So I… kind of learned all of her lines.” Thus, a Kindergarten Liz would walk around her house and ask her parents to quiz her on Wendy’s lines. “In case they needed a new Wendy and Peter Pan,” she adds innocently, “I would be ready.”

She started running track in Grade 6 when her then–best friend encouraged her to join with her. At her first meet, Liv placed second behind that friend, and, soon after, started beating her during practice reps. When it came time for the second meet, Liv received an unexpected warning from her then-friend: you better not beat me today. Liv didn’t know what to say, except a warm congratulations to her friend after the race—for coming in second. Naturally, Liv came in first. “We were not friends after that,” she sighs.

Liv looked up to runners, studied them, and tried to learn as much as she could from them. In Grade 7, she came to watch Nikki Vanasse ’20, a star cross country runner at Pingry, and she could hardly contain her excitement. “I would say to my friends, ‘I’m going to watch Nikki Vanasse race today!’ Obviously, my friends had no idea who that was,” she laughs, “and I’d say ‘Oh, Nikki Vanasse? She’s one of the best runners in New Jersey. I can’t believe you don’t know who Nikki Vanasse is.’” Liv smiles at her own middle school enthusiasm. “I just thought she was the coolest person in the world… I thought, ‘One day, I want to qualify for nationals, like she did. And I want to break a five-mile, like she did.’ She was a role model to me in so many ways.”

In Grade 8, Liv had a chance to run with Nikki, and she took the opportunity to learn as much as she could from her running idol. “The entire time, I probably annoyed the heck out of her because I asked a million questions. Even about the smallest things, like ‘what kind of sneakers do you wear?’ But I felt like this was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to go on a run with Nikki Vanasse, like she was a celebrity in my eyes.” As Liv puts it, she considered Nikki’s success “the blueprint”.

“I was really impressed by her at a young age, and still am to this day,” says Nikki. “With how committed and dedicated and knowledgeable she is. She knows the right questions to ask.”

Nikki graduated when Liv was in Grade 8, so they never got to be on the team together, but they kept in touch, and when Liv was considering colleges, Nikki, who attends Columbia University and runs cross country there, too, offered to be her host. And, just like in that first run, Liv peppered her with questions during her visit, trying to figure it all out.

“She asked very specific questions,” says Nikki, before adding, “She’s on a pursuit to always learn more and better herself in every realm. And that was certainly apparent at a young age.”

Liv is always pushing herself. In her sophomore year, she would ask her coaches if she could do an extra rep after practice. Already exhausted and with practice technically over, Liv was initially running alone. But that push for a little bit extra set a new standard, and during her junior and senior years, she was joined by her fellow teammates pushing themselves, too.

Last spring, when Liv qualified for Nationals, the relay team qualified as well. Rather than race for her own individual accolades, Liv ran instead with the relay team. “We ended up getting third in nationals,” says her Spring Track Coach Tim Grant. “She helped three other girls become All-American. She could have just gone out and run her individual race,” he emphasizes. “She is a true leader. She really is. She is one of the best individuals I’ve ever coached.”



At home in her kitchen, a sheet of paper is taped to the fridge door, surrounded by six neatly taped Post-it notes. The paper, with 2023 XC GOALS written in large letters across the top, lists 15 goals underneath, while the Post-its feature words of inspiration: RUN INTO THE PAIN!, and NO RISK, NO REWARD! And, perhaps the most Liv Murray–esque inspired words of all: IF YOU CAN IMAGINE IT, YOU CAN ACHIEVE IT!

When Liv was accepted into Columbia, her offer was on the condition that she maintain all As. Rather than let up, she decided to challenge herself by taking AP Physics with Dr. Chester Chu, despite not having taken the typical requisites for such a demanding and complex course. There was a period of time when Liv was meeting with Dr. Chu every single day for an hour, going over the work. “People were right to call me crazy for it,” she says. “But… I like it.”

Dr. Chu was impressed. “She definitely has grit,” he says. She stuck with it—hour after hour, day after day, just like all those extra reps after practice—her determination never letting up. “You know, genius comes by all the time,” he observes. “But to have someone who has the heart to push through things that are just really, really challenging?

That is something else.”



The first and second images are by Maggie Yuracheck

The third is courtesty of Bruce Morrison.

To contact the author: Sara Courtney, Communications Writer