It wasn’t enough for Lauren Henkel to run fast, she wanted to make sure others followed. Henkel, an accomplished two-sport athlete during her days at NYU, transitioned from athlete to coach with a wild enthusiasm for those she taught.
Henkel, born and raised in Rockville Centre, died on July 29, only a few weeks after being named head coach of the Molloy College women’s cross country and track and field teams. She was 35.
Henkel previously served as an assistant coach at NYU and St. Thomas Aquinas College in Rockland County. Even though she had not yet begun her official duties at Molloy, Henkel had already reached out to each member of the team via email to discuss training and convey her excitement about the upcoming season, her father, John, said.
“They hadn’t even met her yet and she had already made an impact on their lives,” John, of Rockville Centre, said.
And, for those she had met, that impact was lasting.
“Even when I was doubting myself in certain races, she always inspired me to step up,” former St. Thomas Aquinas runner Katie O’Grady, 22, of North Rockland, said. “I have cystic fibrosis and she never said that I couldn’t do something [because of it]. That made me respect her and love her so much more.”
In addition to coaching, Henkel remained an active runner as part of the New York Athletic Club. She competed in the USATF Indoor National Championship in 2015 and 2017.
Born June 12, 1982, at Mercy Hospital, Henkel graduated from South Side High School in 2000. She then moved on to NYU and became one of the most accomplished athletes in its history, putting together a litany of accolades that would lead to her 2010 induction into the school’s athletic Hall of Fame.
Henkel was a three-time NCAA All-American in the high jump, established 11 individual and relay school records, and was a nine-time University Athletic Association (UAA) champion. She also was an All-American and All-UAA soccer player for NYU and held the school record for most career goals (25) and points (59). She led the university’s soccer team to its first UAA title and first NCAA Tournament Sweet 16 appearance in 2002.
Henkel graduated NYU with a bachelor’s degree in studio art with a minor in Irish studies, one that led her to learn Gaelic in 2004. She earned a master’s degree in sports business from NYU in 2009.
Henkel’s athletic prowess was matched by her academic stature, winning multiple scholar-athlete awards, including the NYU President’s Scholar Athlete of the Year award in soccer and track in 2003.
Henkel also assisted her father with caring for her mother, Irene, who has been ill for nearly 15 years.
“It just showed her love of her family and her love and support of people,” John said.
Henkel was buried at St. Charles Cemetery in Farmingdale following a funeral Mass at St. Agnes Cathedral in Rockville Centre on Aug. 2. She is survived by her sister, Erin Laber, 37, of Brooklyn; her brother, John, 33, of Rockville Centre; and her parents John, 70, and Irene, 67, of Rockville Centre.