Running With God Every Step of the Way-Obsie Birru

Obsie Birru at the Roy Griak Invitational XC Meet 2011 running for Grand View College

Throughout my years of running my faith has really grown and strengthened in the past four years of my career. I have met and been inspired by runners and coaches who share the same passion for running and God as I do. It has truly been a wonderful gift from God to have met so many inspiring runners, who also feel Gods presence in their life.  These past four years I have prayed that I do everything on and off the track in His glory and honor.  I am sure people always think of me as an odd runner because I like to make friends with different runners wherever I go.  Usually runners think they have to stay away from their competition, because of the threat of racing one another. However, I have always been the kind of runner to go up and say “Hi” to my competitors and never have felt the pressure to partake to any before race rituals.  I always tell people around me to just pray and to know that in the end everything is going to be okay.  I feel like when I am out there the Lord is working within me and that no matter how the results stack up he will always be with me.

At track and cross country meets people always ask me if I’m nervous for my upcoming race and I reply with a simple “No”. I believe that’s because I know that no matter what direction things go God is with me every step I take and that eventually everything will fall into place. As soon as I start to feel my nerves coming on I recite the verse from Timothy 1:7 to myself, “God did not give us a spirit that makes us afraid.  He gave us a spirit of power and love and self-control.”  Every time I toe that line during a track or cross country meet I know that I am not alone.  My God is known for working miracles and he decides the outcome no matter the event.  I hope that his work through me helps reveal his glory to all those around me. 

To many people, I have become known as the happy runner and they always ask me why I’m so happy?  How else can you be, when the Lord has given you so much joy?  I choose to share my faith through my running in such a joyful emotion. That’s not to say I haven’t had difficult times with running.  Most runners out there know that running becomes your identity.  All competitive runners identify others with certain times you have hit in particular instances within your career.   When you are not up to par with your normal times, it can make you question a lot of things within your running.  The path becomes such an emotional roller-coaster with many high and low points.  For instance, 2011 was such a great year for me, an indoor national title in the 5k, 3 all American honors followed by two outdoor titles and a cross country national title this past year.   When getting ready for indoor track, I set some big goals for myself.   Halfway through my indoor season I hit the lowest point of my collegiate career. It put me in such a dark place. Running was just not going well at all and my failures on the track started to affect my joyous personality.  However, without even realizing it, while heading to conference, I seemed to have gotten my spark of joy back.

As we headed to indoor nationals during the beginning of March, I felt like my confidence and love for racing was restored.  I won the prelims of the 5k on Thursday afternoon and everything seemed on pace for the finals on Saturday.  As I woke up and got ready Saturday morning everything that could go wrong went wrong, but I brushed it off and acted like nothing was wrong.   That day as my mile final got under way an awful feeling started to come over me and everything began to fall apart with only 800m of the race remaining. While experiencing so much pain in the race, I thought about all of the disappointments I brought upon my teammates and coaches who had helped me get this far. That is when I began to feel hopeless and finished a disappointing 7th place. After the mile I tried to put everything behind me and focus on the 5k later that afternoon.  Little did I know the 5k would also prove to have an awful ending.

This is the point where I sit back and look at running as a wave and in that wave there are high and low points. No matter what point the wave has reached, you have got to learn to ride it. During my low points, I have learned that the best way to deal with it is to turn to the faith others have in me and that can help strengthen my own faith.  For some reason anytime I am experiencing such low points I feel like I need some sort of sign to keep on going. When this occurs the bible verse Philippians 1:6 comes to mind, “being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.”  This verse helps insure me of God’s presence and my faith is strengthening not only just running but in all aspects of my life.  I feel like this because of my trust in God and I know that there is no situation I cannot handle when I’m with Him.  I rely on his strength to help push through because through Him all things are possible. I am so overjoyed and happy that He has chosen me to share His name with others around through my running so that many other runners can get to know Him and be saved.   I am so thankful for the gift of running, but more importantly for the unbroken faith that God has given me.

A season like this is hard for many runners to come back from.  However, for me I feel like this is not the case.  I feel like God has given me so many people that encourage me and believe in me even on the days I give up on myself.  He has given me faith that has helped me persevere through his word and all the caring people He has put in my life.   I feel that He will continue to strengthen my faith in Him and help me to stay hopeful in the plans He has for my running and life. I pray that I continue my life in taking every step with Him.

The Next Level Iowa:FAITH

Ashley Miller anchors the distance medley relay for Nebraska

“The Grand Plan” by Ashley Miller

15-time Iowa State High School track & field champion; two-time Iowa State High School cross country champion; University of Nebraska track & field and cross country captain; All-American in indoor and outdoor track & field.

The instant after crossing the finish line of the Iowa Class 2A girls 1,500-meter run in 2007 was one of the happiest moments of my life. Not only did the victory solidify me as the winningest high school track and field athlete in state history, but it was an end to a high school career in which I could be proud. Since that milestone, much has happened throughout my running journey; good times, bad times, and everything in between. The purpose of these words is not to provide an autobiography, but to offer testimony to how I dealt with hills and valleys in my athletic career, and lessons learned along the way.

Entering college is a daunting task for any incoming freshman, but coming in with the expectation of proving yourself scholarship-worthy is an even bigger weight on the shoulders. Perhaps this pressure was too much for me to handle at the time, for midway through my freshman running campaign as a collegian, I received a major twist to my agenda: a navicular stress fracture in my right foot. Shock, disbelief, and frustration describe my feelings after receiving the diagnosis. Not only was I forced to crutch around a snowy and icy Nebraska campus — fully equipped with a hot pink cast (at least the color was stylish) — but at the time it felt that my running dreams were crushed. Negative thoughts entered my mind. Would I ever be able to compete at the Division I level? What if I never got back in shape? Maybe this running thing was not meant to be.

There came a point when the pessimistic thoughts had to be kicked aside. Being more inclined to swing toward the side of optimism, I decided that the only way to deal with this situation was to channel my faith, believing there was a time and purpose for every event in life. Not until a few years down the road did I find this devastating event to be a blessing in disguise.  For one, I was able to take my first year to become adjusted to college life. Second, after receiving a medical hardship, I was awarded a fifth year of competing; a gift since this 2011-12 year has been my most successful one to date.

Nearly five years have passed since the 1,500 race in 2007. Those could have been my final laps around the blue oval at Drake Stadium. However, those who follow the sport of track & field realize that this was not the case. As a matter of fact, I hope to make the journey to Drake Stadium at least two more times this year (competing at the Drake Relays, and God-willing, the NCAA Outdoor Track & Field Championships). Every day I count my blessings that I did not give up on my dream. Throughout my journey as a student-athlete, I have built friendships, experiences, and knowledge to carry me through the next chapter of life; I am extremely thankful. Being a student-athlete has taught me to appreciate little things, from staying healthy, to achieving the smallest of goals; whether these are acing a test, doing four pull-ups in the weight room, or even being able to get nine hours of sleep a night. I have learned the importance of hard work, dedication, teamwork, and most importantly, to be thankful that I was blessed with a gift for running that has provided many opportunities.

Running does not define me, but I believe there was a purpose for its inclusion in my life.  The anticipation of where the sport will lead me next provides the inspiration to continue to invest my energy into the cause. Next year, as I enter graduate school at the University of Tennessee to study nutrition, running will continue to be part of the plan (my plan, at least; God will have the final say). I am eager to see what is ahead, and how I will grow and develop from this new challenge of pursuing my next level.

My journey as a student-athlete has taught me to keep things in perspective.  I enjoy running, and in many ways, the success I have had is how people acknowledge or remember me. There are more important things in life than being an accomplished runner. I understand and accept that this activity is simply a small speck in the grand plan of life.

A small speck in my grand plan of life.


The Next Level Iowa:Faith “Sarah Yeager”

Sarah Yeager runs for Drake University

“A Good Neighbor”

Drake junior Sarah Yeager (Ottumwa, Iowa) was one of 10 Missouri Valley Conference athletes to be honored with the MVC State Farm Good Neighbor Award, Commissioner Doug Elgin announced Tuesday.

Yeager, a sprinter and hurdler on the track squad, serves as the co-president of the Drake Student-Athlete Advisory Council and represented Drake at the NCAA Leadership Conference last year. A health sciences major, Yeager is in the midst of an internship at the Iowa Methodist Medical Center.

Additionally, she has volunteered with Meals From The Heartland, at the Blank’s Children Hospital and Blankets for Bulldogs, which is a youth activity where they tied blankets for Iowa Homeless Youth Centers   “Sarah is one of the many individuals on our team that is always on the go,” commented head coach Natasha Brown. “Even while being a Division I athlete and studying health sciences, she finds the time to give back to the community and epitomizes the Drake University student. I’m so proud of Sarah for being recognized for her accomplishments.”

Yeager was recognized for her achievements along with fellow winter sport athletes including Charonn Woods of Bradley, Matthew Orward of Creighton, Colt Ryan of Evansville, Jeanette Nolte of Illinois State, Andrea Rademacher of Indiana State, Christiana Shorter of Missouri State, Chelsea Hartman of Northern Iowa, Harry Whitt of Southern Illinois and Jaclyn Abrahamian of Wichita State.
In order to be eligible for the award, the student-athlete must be in good academic standing, must demonstrate good citizenship through good sportsmanship and significant community service, and must participate in a sport, during the season of recognition.

The Valley will recognize 10 student-athletes three times annually (fall, winter, spring), for a total of 30 honorees.  Institutions select their Good Neighbor Award honorees.  State Farm Insurance is a long-time sponsor of the Missouri Valley Conference and serves as title sponsor for all 18 MVC championship events. Also, State Farm is a prominent sponsor of the league’s television network and a sponsor of the Missouri Valley Conference’s community outreach program.

The Next Level Iowa: Faith “The Houlihan Sisters”

Shelby and Shayla Houlihan

“Sister Acts” by Shelby and Shayla Houlihan

Over the years there have been a number of sister “acts” with Iowa preps and former Iowa preps.   We could make a very long list of such talented siblings, buit I would hate to leave anyone out.  One of the “sister acts” that is going strong right now is “The Houlihan Sister’s”

Shelby is the states All time prep record holder in the 800 meters, 2:07.35.  She won the 4A Cross Country title in 2010 and the 800, 1500 and 3000 at last springs state track meet.  She started off her freshman year at Arizona State this past fall, by being named the Pac-12 Cross Country Newcomer of the Year and followed that up with a fine indoor season.  Her freshman outdoor campaign is off to a good start as well.  She opened up with a win in the 800 this past weekend.

Shayla Houlihan, on the other hand, has been a “late bloomer” compared to Shelby.  I have asked both young ladies to put together a short autobiography, telling us about their careers.  How did they get to where they are today?  What were some of the bumps along the way?  Along with the good and rewarding times.  The following is Shayla’s version of her running career biography.  Shelby’s will be available soon.
Shayla, thank you so much for sharing!

For those of you that don’t know me, you’re probably asking yourself, “is she any relation to Shelby Houlihan?” the answer is yes, she is my sister. This brings me to my high school track and field days where I didn’t see anything close to the amount of success as my baby sister. This would be by my own stubborn choice; though my coaches and parents tried pushing me towards excellence in running I was not interested yet. I was involved heavily in everything from band to choir to student council to mayor’s youth commission. Not only was I just involved but I dove in deep: student council president, flag corps. Captain, trying out for honors choirs, etc. as you can imagine this left little time for running. My senior year was the only year I qualified for the Iowa State meet in the 3,000 meters. I finished dead last. Drake stadium somewhat haunted me. Little did I know I’d be spending a lot of time there in the next 8 years of my life.

Off to college I went the fall of 2003. I had decided on the University if Northern Iowa because it “felt right”. I had been to campus numerous times on student council trips so it felt like home away from home.

There were no plans for me to run in college but in the back of my mind I wondered if I could make it as a walk on to a Division I program. My brother challenged me to “just give it a try for a week; you can always quit “. I did so, knowing I would never quit something once I’d made the commitment. My first run with the women was a long hill workout. I hung on. Each day I got dropped on runs. I’d have to walk at or before 30 minutes. My long run days (8 miles) would take a toll on me for the rest of the day. I was a mess! My freshman and sophomore year was tough, trying to build mileage I had never in my life come close to doing, going to class as a full time student, being away from home for the first time. I wanted to give up but I couldn’t let my family down. Coach Kepler kept encouraging me. Sophomore year I saw glimpses of success in between stress fractures. I ran my first steeplechase that Spring. I had found an event that was terrifyingly enjoyable. I knew deep down inside I could be good. It wasn’t until the fall of my Junior year when I got a stress fracture in my femur that I said enough is enough. I wanted to see how good I could be. The heartache of getting fit and getting injured was frustrating. So I started taking care of myself. I came out swinging my last year at Northern Iowa. I was smart, I was dropping times in each event by 10-20 seconds and I was confident this would be the case in my following 5th year of eligibility but coaches at the time weren’t quite confident that would keep true based on my history of injury. I was done with my undergrad degree so running a 5th year was trivial.

While looking at Graduate school, I knew I wanted to explore life beyond Iowa so I contacted coach Kepler at the University of Utah (he had taken the head coaching job there after my sophomore year). Once again he was ready to take a chance on me and give me an opportunity to be a Ute. I visited, loved the Health Promotion and Education Department and basically fell in love with Utah! I finished out my final year of eligibility with a 30 second PR in the steeplechase this qualified me for the NCAA Regional meet. Once again I was dead last.

I decided to keep running. Being the graduate assistant coach for the team made it easy for me to keep running and see if I could be as good as my next personal record. That first year we saw great things happening in practices. I ran 10:30 early in the season then saw my season crumble because of a bad cold that left my lungs aching for months. Kep and I committed to yet one more year. I was done with grad school going into 2010; making my focus on coaching, working and running. I built mileage, I continued to train healthy going on my 4th year, I dialed in on my strength training; I slept (a lot). My life changed that year. I lived to survive for the next day’s workout. It wasn’t glamorous; it was just exactly what I needed to propel me to be one of the top steeplechasers in the nation.

In Early January we figured out that training was going better than planned. We were now aware that the U.S. indoor championships were a realistic goal, and maybe not just qualifying for the U.S. Outdoor championships but to do well there and make the final. I went on this year to post personal bests in every event I touched and place 6th in the nation in both the 3k indoors and steeplechase outdoors. I was having fun with it. People saw, people knew. I was doing what I love to do every single day of my life!

  Brooks contacted me along with a couple of other shoe companies about representing their company. I liked what Brooks’ vision for their company was. I loved their shoes and what they stood for. I signed a professional running contract with them a few days before the 2010 Outdoor championships. I quickly developed a couple of different support systems on top of the ones I already had.

Brooks signed a handful of women at the same time and we became instant friends and teammates. My agency, Charisma Sports has been another wonderful resource and support system the past 2 years. I’ve had the opportunity to race over seas for 2 years now. Last year was a tough year, I made a coaching change, moved to Flagstaff, Arizona and got injured. Thanks to Dr. John Ball(an Iowa Prep as well, now living in Phoenix, AZ) for piecing me back together. I was able to pull myself together and muster out a steeplechase personal best in early July once I switched up my training and started coaching myself with the guidance of coach Kepler.

2012 has gone off without a hitch. I’m so thankful and excited to be on the track every opportunity I get. Track access is close to non-existent in Flagstaff. There are 4 of the best all weather tracks at 7,000 ft that I’ve ever seen. They are locked up and not available to the public. This has made training especially hard here. Fortunately, coach Kepler has been able to set “track” workouts during races this past indoor season. It’s been fun to switch up training we’ve done in the past because I’m constantly evolving as an athlete but yet keep it all very similar to what we know works for me. I was able to try all sorts of race tactics during the indoor season and I know it will help going into the outdoor season. At the US Indoor Championships a few weeks ago I took 5th place in the 3,000 meters, my highest finish at a national championship. I then came back the next day and ran the 1500 to get another good track session in.

With outdoor season upon us my real focus gets a jump start. The steeplechase is that event I feel like home in. I keep coming back for more because it’s where I feel at ease. I am one of a handful of women that already have the “A” qualifier (9:55 or faster) for the U.S.A. trials at the end of June. This means I will be competing for a spot on the Olympic team. During this outdoor season I will be chasing the Olympic “A” standard; I am within 10 seconds of doing so. This is a standard I must meet in order to compete at the Olympics, vying I’m in the top 3 at the trials of course.

Wow, taking a step back, looking and talking about where I’ve come from and how I’ve developed into a professional athlete in one of the hardest sports to be sustainable in is a little mind-boggling. I’m so grateful for all these great opportunities that have been placed before me. I try to daily take advantage and be the best I can be to become the best in the nation and eventually the world.

The Next Level Iowa: FAITH “Mogan Casey”

Morgan Casey now runs for Iowa State University

“A Passion For Running” by Morgan Casey

My senior year of high school I joined the ranks of many others such as myself who share a passion for running, and blogging about it. Occasionally I get a little personal, share a running story that’s maybe just a bit out there, but seeing as it’s only a select audience who cares to read what I have to say, they usually get it and just laugh along with me.
I guess entertainment is one of my goals in life. Isn’t that part of the reason we begin to run in the first place? A small part of us craves the limelight. We love the press coverage, the look of awe on people’s faces when they say “you ran TEN miles?,” and it’s no secret that as a high schooler running at Drake is cool, but it’s the sense of pride felt while hearing Mike Jay’s voice echoing your name throughout the stadium that really leaves a mark in your soul.

All of that has changed now that I have entered the realm of NCCA division I athletics. My high school PR in the 1500 would have been enough to earn me credit for an Iowa all-time best (had Katie Flood and Shelby Houlihan not also broken the record that same day) but now that PR is simply a stat in my bio on, and it is not nearly enough to garner media attention nor intimidate my competitors when we step to the line. You have to do something a little bigger to catch people’s eye these days.

It’s easy to fall into thinking that no one really cares, no one remembers your name, and that you’ll never see your name in the headlines again. Frankly, maybe they don’t and maybe you never will, but with that kind of attitude you’ll definitely not work your way back to the top.
Seeing THE NEXT LEVEL for the first time came at a good moment for me. My indoor season had just ended with conference two weeks ago, and while the meet went well for me, three of my team mates ran at nationals this weekend, and their accolades trump mine tenfold.
Those three girls have earned All-American honors multiple times. Dani Stack was the fastest collegian in the 10k at USA’s last summer, Betsy Saina became a NATIONAL CHAMPION on Friday, and Meaghan Nelson, a former Cedar Rapids Xavier athlete, was injured for the whole of last year, and came back to be a cross country All-American, and finish fourth in the 5k this weekend.
I run with these girls at practice. I have dinner with these girls on the weekends. We share the same locker room, do the same workouts, and even wear matching sweats and cuddle in bed together. (There’s me getting a little personal) They are my team mates, my friends, and my inspiration all at once.

While living in the shadow of Dani, Betsy, and Meaghan I could easily think to myself “Oh they are so fast, I wish I was the fast. I wish I was the one on the front page of the ‘Iowa State Daily.’ I miss running making me feel important.”

Instead of getting some cheese to go with my whine I look up to my friends, I respect them, and I let them motivate me. I am still green in my career as a collegiate athlete, but even Betsy “National Champion” Saina had to start somewhere. I see on THE NEXT LEVEL that there are still some people out there who remember the Iowa high school runners from way back when iPods couldn’t talk, and even if only one other person aside from my mom and grandpa read my blog that’s OK with me because I have served my purpose as an entertainer, and reaffirmed my confidence that the one person who needs to care how fast I run still cares A LOT. That person is me.
As long as there are personal records to be broken, races to be run, and the big question mark there each and everyday asking me “How fast can you run, Mo?” then I will continue to lace up my trainers and go entertain myself with a run because while pats on the back are nice, the thought that someone else is enjoying my running is nicer. The feeling of self accomplishment in my burning calves, joy in my sweating brow, and motivation in my blackened toenails  is superior to any “kudos to you” I’ve ever gotten.

The Next Level Iowa: FAITH “Betsy Flood”

Betsy Flood Captain University of Iowa Track Team

“God Made Me Be Able to Run” by Betsy Flood

My faith has played a really large role in my running career, especially in the past four years since being at Iowa.  Since being here, I have had the opportunity to be surrounded by some really inspiring Christians who have helped me to question the purpose of running and the purpose of life.  I can now say that my intentions are to live every part of my life for Christ, and since running is a large part of my life, it has been a really exciting journey to see what all I can attempt to do with this wonderful gift that God has given so many of my teammates and myself.
Running has never been something that has come easily to me, but it had never been so difficult until the past year.  I never realized how intensely failure on the track and cross-country course could effect my emotions!  I have never had so many awful races in a row until this year, and I also have never cried as many days as I have in the past year.  There have been lots of temptations to try to just take over and do everything on my own, at times I have even tried to do this, but am reminded that I can nothing on my own.  I actually do not know how I could have persevered through this with my faith.  Getting to go to church and worship or just having bible verses and people for constant encouragement has allowed me to remain hopeful that better things are to come, and to trust that God has a plan much greater than the plan I have for myself.  I have learned the importance of praising God when you feel joy and goodness, but I have also learned that he is the ONLY one true joy and that nothing on this earth can even compare to that.  This year has been lots and lots of disappointment and questioning but also has graced me with the chance to be more understanding, and humble. I have also been able to accept that nothing I do will make me any more worthy, but that the ‘great’ things I do are done through me by the Holy Spirit working inside.
So far in my life, running, though it is only the act of moving my legs, has brought me closer to God than any other factor.  It has taught me so much about life! It is a chance to make use of the physical body that is a gift, to experience the beautiful nature, and to directly glorify God through pouring your heart into something over and over again. The opportunities associated with running have allowed me to touch and be touched by a great magnitude of people. This year I have especially felt undeserving of all the love that has been showered on me. Christ’s love has been showered on me through the acts of so many others! Mother Theresa once said, “I can do no great thing, only small things with great love.”  This quote is just really wonderful to me! I recognize that I will never be the fastest in the world and maybe not even in a race, but I can take each day as a small opportunity to glorify God and make use of pouring love into the gifts he has given me.
My favorite bible verse is Romans 5:3-5.  “Not only so but we also glory in our sufferings because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.”  I pray that I may remember this for as long as this ‘suffering’ lasts, and to remain hopeful that the Lord has good things planned.  I am thankful that he has given me this gift, and I know whatever his plans are will be the ones most worth following.