Heusden-Zolder, Belgium may be a long way from the Dowling Catholic High School track where Karissa Schweizer first experienced success, and it may be further still from familiar “Audrey J. Walton Track” on the Mizzou campus, yet the results are still the same. Running internationally for the first time this July, Schweizer won her first overseas race in Kortrijk, Belgium, setting another personal best in the 1500m of 4:06.77 in the process. Only a week later she faced a much tougher international challenge that featured some familiar American names.
Feature photo: Karissa Schweizer-Dowling-Mizzou battles Molly Huddle in Heusden-Zolder, Belgium ©Jim Kirby 2018
On a beautiful Belgium summer evening, Schweizer walked from the staging area onto the track for the women’s 5K event. She walked along with the rest of the field which included some of the best in the world, such as fellow Iowan and Olympian Shelby Houlihan and Olympian Molly Huddle and Olympic medalist Shalane Flanagan, who was on hand to pace Houlihan in her attempt to break the American 5K record.
Schweizer had an interesting new uniform on this evening as well. No longer wearing the familiar black and yellow of Mizzou, she now wore the uniform of The Bowerman Track Club, her new professional team, joining track giants like Flanagan and Houlihan. The subtle sign of different colors marked a new chapter in Schweizer’s career, ending months of anticipation and some nerves in deciding which pro team she’d run for.
“Excited to finally announce that I have signed with Nike and the Bowerman Track Club! Can’t wait to see what the future holds.” Schweizer talked about it after the race and added, “I’m really excited to start training with the Bowerman team. They have a really good framework going and I can’t wait to be a part of it!”
A large, enthusiastic crowd settled in for the women’s 5K, excited to see the international field and were not disappointed. Toeing the line, Schweizer, now an experienced veteran of big races, wore a calm yet focused stare, awaiting the gun. Karissa’s mother, Kathy, stood nervously along the fence. Even though she too had become a veteran of her daughter’s big races, there’s always a little anxiety at times like these for all mothers, no matter how many big races they watch their daughters run. Holding her phone tight to her ear, Kathy would nervously give a play by play of her daughter’s race to friends, family and former teammates via a conference call.
From the start, the race unfolded predictably as Houlihan and her pacers broke from the field in the first 200 meters, while Schweizer settled into the middle of the chase pack, staying just off the rail and out of trouble. Several laps in, a smaller chase group formed including Schweizer, Huddle and Emily Sisson, former NCAA National Champion. Up front, Houlihan was competing against the clock; meanwhile a second more competitive race battled on behind her.
With one lap remaining, Houlihan was on pace to break the record, while the battle for second was heating up and would be between Huddle and Schweizer. With 200 meters to go, Houlihan headlong into her famous finishing kick as Huddle and Schweizer were busy showing off ferocious kicks of their own.
As the crowd rose to its feet, they roared their approval for finishing efforts they were witnessing: Houlihan’s record breaking performance and the battle between Huddle and Schweizer finishing second and third respectively. After the race, Schweizer was quite pleased and proud of her third-place finish, setting yet another big personal 5K best in 15:02.44 and breaking another Missouri school record.
A satisfied Schweizer reflected on her race and European tour, not forgetting her college coach, Mizzou’s Marc Burns, who helped her get to this elite level. “I was very happy with the race. It’s been a stressful week with everything going on and I was glad I was able to clear my mind & have a good race! The whole goal for going to Europe was the set myself up for a fast 5k and Coach Burns put me in the best position for that.”
It appears no matter where Karissa Schweizer races, and for whatever team she runs, the results are the same and success will certainly follow.