UNIVERSITY PARK - It's been more than a decade since Jess Riden hung up her competitive sneakers, concluding a standout career on the track and cross country trails for Indian Valley. But don't think for a minute that the former Warrior distance runner isn't still on the run.
Riden is busy, busy, busy - going a mile a minute - serving as the director of operations for the men's and women's cross country and indoor and outdoor track and field programs at Penn State.
"Track and field and cross country are really my sports - my passion - so I couldn't ask for a job that is more fun," says Riden, a former distance runner for the Nittany Lions.
Now in her seventh year, Riden oversees numerous administrative tasks for the cross country and track and field programs. Her responsibilities include meet management, alumni relations and overseeing the officials, along with many other day-to-day tasks involved in running the college programs. She also serves as the athletic communications contract for the programs, producing the teams' media guides and writing press releases.
"We like to say in our office that there is never a dull moment," Riden says. "No day is ever the same; no moment is ever the same, especially when you are dealing with 100 kids in six sports. There are a lot of personalities and a lot going on. There's always work to be done. When you finish one thing, you are always moving on to the next thing."
While Riden and the Nittany Lion harriers just wrapped up the fall cross country season, the start of indoor track and field looms in January.
"I've really taken a liking to this role," Riden says. "I like helping athletes get to where they need to be and know when they have to be there. It's very rewarding to grab hold of these teams and these athletes, and invest in their success."
Penn State is coming off a very successful cross country campaign in 2012, which saw the women win their first-ever NCAA Mid-Atlantic Regional crown, earn a top 10 national ranking and place 14th at the NCAA Championships.
"This is really my dream job," says Riden. "I have a different perspective because I have been in the athletes' shoes. I know how a track and field or cross country meet should run because I was an athlete. At the same time, I know worlds more than I did seven years ago."
A state qualifier at Indian Valley, Riden decided to take her running talents to Happy Valley. After graduating from Penn State in 2004, Riden worked as an athletic communications assistant at Bucknell University, where she served as the primary contact for 10 Division I sports, including track and field. She then moved on to being the media relations coordinator at East Tennessee State University.
Riden thought her next career move would be working for the Penn Relays media relations department at the University of Pennsylvania. All that changed when Beth Alford-Sullivan, the head coach of Penn State cross country and track and field programs, came calling.
"She's a great person," Riden says of her former coach and current boss. "She asked me if I was interested in coming back. I was very excited about the job at Penn, so I was put into a position where I had to make a decision. I couldn't turn down my alma mater, and it all worked out in the end."
Riden says the director of operations is a fairly new position to the world of college athletics. Penn State has allowed her to mold her job responsibilities to suit her talents.
Working with tradition-rich programs at Penn State has also enabled Riden to share in many special moments. At the 2008 NCAA Championships, sprinter Shana Cox won the title in the 400 meters then brought the Nittany Lions from behind on the anchor lap to victory in the 4x400 relay.
"Being someone on the coaching staff and then someone who has worn that uniform, that was pretty special for me," Riden says.
There was also the 2009-10 school year, which saw the Penn State women bring home the triple crown, winning Big Ten Conference titles in cross country and indoor and outdoor track and field.
"That year we hosted the cross country championships, which put me in an interesting position of running the meet," Riden says. "I really couldn't be a cheerleader, so when I looked at the results and saw we won, it was a surreal moment. I couldn't really say anything until they announced the results."
In addition to watching former Nittany Lion standouts reach the pinnacle of their sports, Riden has also crossed paths with Olympic champions like Usain Bolt and other top-notch athletes when Penn State has competed at various invitationals.
"I didn't get anywhere near him," she joked of seeing the Jamaican sprinter. "That's kind of the fun part of this job. You see these athletes compete at local trials and then the next thing you know they're on TV competing and are the best in the world."
For Riden, it's all just part of the job, one which she has come to love.