“Pursuing Greatness” by Shelby Houlihan

I knew since I was 5 years old, when my mom started putting me in one mile cross country races that I wanted to run. My dream ever since then has been to compete in the Olympics and to be one of the best female runners in the world. No one ever told me that this is what I should do, it has just always been inside of me and I’ve always had this feeling that I’m supposed to do something and be somebody. Whether this is God’s will or my own, this dream has always been one I hope to achieve. I first started training seriously for track when I was in 8th grade and competed in national competitions in the 800m. My freshman year of high school was a lot of fun but it was kind of scary to be racing these girls that were older than me such as Katie Flood, Ashley Decker, the Dinsdale twins, or Collete Gnade. It wasn’t until my sophomore year that I really fell in love with this sport. Winning both the 1500m and the 800m at Drake was a real breakthrough point for me and made me realize that I can compete with any of these girls. That summer, I competed at Nike Outdoor Nationals in Greensboro, NC and ran what is so far the fastest race of my life. Coming in 3rd at 2:07.35, I set the Iowa All-time high school record in the Read more

“5 Good Minutes With Knoxville’s Randy Wilson!”

Knoxville native, Randy Wilson, is without a doubt, our states best ever 800 meter runner. What I find so unique about Randy is that he WAS NOT a half-miler in high school! He was a Cross Country champion, a Mile champion and High Hurdle champion! In addition, Randy is still the Drake Relays Invitational 800 Meter Run record holder. Some of the best have taken a shot at his1978 winning mark of 1:45.86 over the years, only to come up short. And that is just fine!! Randy Wilson is not only Iowa’s best ever, he is one the best ever in the USA. I had the opportunity to do a “Question and Answer” interview with Randy recently.  I hope you enjoy it as we gear up for the 2012 edition of the Drake Relays. Read more

“To Run” by Abbie Smith

Abbie Smith Dowling Catholic 2002

To run is to just let go. To run is to pray in thanksgiving for your glorious surroundings and just be thankful. To run is to pray in lieu of your sadness. To run is to be completely out of your control and in HIS. Running has taught me more in life, than I could have ever imagined. I started running as a means to be a better all-sport athlete, and in turn the art of running has shaped me into the woman, Christian, athlete and scholar that I am today. Looking back it’s easy to realize that God guided my path toward Him through running, by giving me just enough talent to see some running successes, but with just enough set-backs to keep continually striving forward. Initially, running was a means to improve my body physically. Run more miles, burn more calories… It was not too long after I started running for physical reasons, that I quickly realized running was so much more. In a time during high school when I needed nothing more than a loyal friend and father-figure, running became a daily ‘date’ with God, where I offered up my lungs and legs in return for his gentle voice and hand to push me up the hills and basins of life. As I struggled with self-esteem and self-acceptance, through running, God continued to demonstrate to me the talents that He had given me. He taught me the skills of dedication and consistency through training and improvements. He gave me opportunities to be a strong leader. He gave me injuries and pain to remind me that I am not in control. He taught me that my body was more than something physical, but instead it surrounded a strong soul and heart– something more valuable than just a skinny body. He taught me about passion and love of others through training and competition. And through running, He truly taught me that I can do anything, for He is always by my side. To this day, I recall upon the same verse from Matthew 6 that I would read and breathe as my running mantra: 25‘Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? 26Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? 27Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life? 28And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin…. 33But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. 34Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own. As I am now beyond my competitive career, God still continues to present opportunities of Faith, Passion, Leadership, Knowledge and Self-worth through running. As I sit here and reflect upon where I am today, I find it ironic and seamlessly faith-filled that I am in a position to teach and mentor individuals about exercise and nutrition, which is incredibly enhanced by my experiences with running, competition and living a God centered life. More so, I find myself in places that were once thought to be out of reach, and presented with unimaginable opportunities, all signs that I am not in control. God has a plan for me. I am where I am today, because I learned to let God guide one foot in front of the other, to run to obtain the prize.

Assistant Professor, University of North Carolina Chapel Hill
Dowling Catholic H.S.
Truman State University, BS-Academic All-American Cross Country, Track & Field
University of Oklahoma, MS, PhD

Living Faith In The Public Eye: Randy Whitsel

The name Tim Tebow is recognized by almost every American household these days.  The world seemed  surprised that as a NFL player for the Denver Broncos Tim would continue his strong witness for his Christian faith that he gave as a Heisman winning quarterback for his University of Florida team.  Raised by a missionary family who trained him to be a witness for his Savior and that his first mission in life is to use his talents for the glory of Christ, he is an inspiration to many and an enigma to others.  He is a reminder to all that God is sovereign and although his Mother, for health reasons, had been told several times by physicians that she should abort the baby she eventually named Timothy she chose to trust God and bring him into the world.
With the resources that his lucrative salary brings he is supporting over 40 Philippine evangelists who are sharing the gospel with their countrymen and along with CURE he helping to construct a 30 bed orthopedic hospital for children in the Philippines,
Recently traded to the New York Jets I heard his remarks at his first press conference which were filled with humility and the desire to connect with his new team mates.
Some time back I heard someone make a comment that although they had known and know of a person for a number of years that lived and worked in their community, they did not know until then that he professed to be a Christian. Tim Tebow is living demonstration to all of us Believers that we need to keep the words of our Savior in mind, from our text, “Whoever acknowledges me before men I will also acknowledge before my Father in Heaven.”  Let’s speak of our Savior with our lives and our lips!
Yours for the Journey,

A True Appreciation of the Drake Relays by Kyle Kepler

Kyle Kepler coaches at Utah

In the spring of 1990 a Iowa HS coach had and extra ticket to the Drake Relays and decided to ask one of his freshman if he’d like to travel down with the team to watch.  That freshman had heard of the Relays and had an idea that it was a “pretty big deal”.  So the school suburban was packed up with the qualifying team members and their gear.  There wasn’t much room left for the freshman so he actually laid on the bags in the back of the bus.  Today this would probably be grounds for a lawsuit, but then it was making the most of an opportunity any way possible.

A year later that same freshman, now a sophomore, would be the final qualifier into 3200 meter only after the HS coach had to call the Relays office.  The runner was omitted off of the qualifiers list which was listed on Monday morning in the DM Register.  The coach was met with a voice on the other line who acknowledged that weeks before had told the coach his runner would be in the meet because the cutoff was always just over 10 minutes.  His direct quote was… “I remember our conversation and I’ll let him in the meet, but he’s going to get last”.  That quote combined with a coach who knew how to use it to motivate his runners can be better than any weapon of mass destruction.  The only qualifier not to have run under 10:00 in that field was never once in last place.  With 500 meters to go the runner with the slowest qualifying time went from 10th to third down the homestretch and into third place as the runners started kicking down the backstretch.  The defending champion from the previous year then passed the unknown runner and went after the leaders.  The runner that couldn’t be identified by the announcers was now in fourth heading onto the homestretch for the final time.  After one last battle with 50 meters to go one final senior, a State XC champion, was able to make his way around the unnamed runner.  Fifth place, a medal, and the real beginning of a running career that included two runner up finishes in the 3200m, two sixth place finishes in the 10K as a collegian, and two 8K road race titles after college.  Not too bad for some unknown, slowest qualifier in the field.

Now as a collegiate coach at two different schools that same unknown, slowest qualifier has coached two relays and an individual to Drake Relays titles.  The first relay title might be one of the most remembered in Drake history as senior anchor Balazs Csillag blasted down the homestretch and out leaned Brad Hauser to give UNI a 4x1600m title over a vaunted Stanford program that won an NCAA team title a year later.  Iowa HS distance legend Rob Brock ran the third leg on that relay and put Csillag in perfect position with a 4:04 carry.  Brock was the primary catalyst of that UNI relay quartet which also won 4×1600 and 4×1500 titles at the Florida State and Sea Ray Relays that Spring.

The other two titles came from a school that had never been to the Drake Relays until 2006 when this nameless runner left UNI to take over a rebuilding University of Utah program.  The first year it was a couple relays that didn’t finish very high and an individual or two who barely qualified for the Relays.  The next couple years it was marginal improvement and experience that were gained.  Finally, in Utah’s fifth annual trek to Drake (2010) a slightly built blonde gal with a stride that was as long as it was fluid would give Salt Lake City it’s first ever Drake Relays title.  Alyssa Abbott sat comfortably in the pack through halfway of the 1500 meter event.  Then as the group moved down the backstretch she moved to the lead.  Challengers came and went, but none could get around this fiercely determined junior who had overcome two knee surgeries and a few other typical runner ailments throughout her career.  Her winning time of 4:23 would be a new personal best and one of better winning times in the 20 year history of the event at Drake.  After a few interviews Abbott took her champions flag and her victory lap.

Last year that same blonde with the smooth stride would have a hand in Utah’s first ever relay title.  Abbott would lead two sophomores and a junior into the Distance Medley relay on Friday afternoon.  This was a relay that had been dominated by Midwest teams in recent years.  However, this was Utah’s race from start to finish.  Leadoff runner Amanda Mergaert ran near the front of the pack until 300 meters to go when she bolted to the front down the backstretch and built a four second lead at the exchange.  By the time the 800 meter runners got the batons the race was even again between Utah and Iowa State.  After a slow opening 400 it was Utah’s Lucy Yates that opened up another large gap, again down the backstretch, before handing off a five second lead to Abbott.  Four evenly run (70-71-72-71), unchallenged victory laps later Abbott broke into a huge smile as she and her Ute teammates crossed the finish line as Drake Champions.  After interviews by local and national media the quartet got their flags and took their victory lap to an adoring crowd who congratulated them all.  The unknown, slowest qualifying runner was now no longer unknown. The stadium announcer made sure the sellout crowd knew he was the coach of that fine Utah relay and a local boy from just up the road.  That journey has gone from Webster City, to Cedar Falls, and now Salt Lake City.  Regardless of where the trip has began each spring the last weekend of April for each of the last 22 year the destination has always been the Drake Relays for Webster City runner, UNI runner and coach,  and now University of Utah Head Coach Kyle Kepler.

Why Drake and not Penn?  Both meets are amazing.  Both produce some of the best marks in the country each spring.  They are the longest running meets in the country.  Franklin Field and Drake Stadium are very unique and historical venues.  While Penn might have 3-4 times as many spectators attend their meet, I just don’t think it will ever match the way Drake brings the athletes, spectators, and officials together.  The fact that I have local ties helps our athletes feel more at home.  The officials talk to them, wish them good luck, or even try to tell them “stories” about their coaches.  (Burke Bockman from Decorah and UNI is my associate head coach).  I’m not going to say we get the same type of reception from the fans as the State of Iowa schools do, but our kids do hear several cheers for them when they compete.  This allows them to relax which is all you can ask for as a coach.  At meets like Drake, the kids who typically perform the best are those who can stay relaxed and focus on repeating what they do in practice…nothing more, nothing less.  Other reasons for coming to Drake:  It’s closer, Iowa Bakery Café, Jethros, Carolyn Hill (Ass’t Drake Relays Director), friends and family, and the announcers now know who we are:)

I have always felt very fortunate because I’m just old enough to have experiences in both the old and “new” Drake Stadium.  I competed in the original venue with the raised track and grass infield.  The experiences of warming up next to Olympians and NCAA champs was amazing.  How the officials controlled that chaos no one really knows, but they did.  Today, with the infield raised and the stadium renovated it still provides a unique experience, but with much better sight lines and less risk of interfering with races or having athletes get injured while warming up.

The fact that the meet is over 100 years old and has only had 11 meet directors also says a lot.  I know a few of the first eight directors by some of their career accomplishments or Hall of Fame inductions.  The last three I have actually gotten to know.  Mr. Ehrhart was an exceptional leader for 31 years.  Mark and Brian have both done some great things as well.  I think they all tried to keep as much of the history as they could and then combine it with some new ideas that were needed.  Each has understood the history of the event, but they have found ways to include some much needed modernization and upgrades to keep the event fresh and fun for everyone involved. I tend to be a traditionalist at heart so to see the old scoreboard, the straight curve, and sunken infield all disappear was hard at first.  Other than not being able to enter the track through the old tunnel on the East side the environment of the Drake Relays as I’ve always known it is still there.

Other than winning events my best story/memory came from my senior year of HS (1993).  I finished second in the 3200 for the second straight year.  That was in the days when it was on Saturday morning at 9:30am and everyone warmed up on the track (including the pros).  We always stayed for the rest of the meet.  I liked to watch different events from different parts of the stadium.  The big attraction that year was the 200 meter race that featured up and comer Michael Johnson, former Drake star Kevin Little, and collegiate standout Olapade Adeniken of UTEP.   I’m sitting on the old cement curbing just outside lane 8 at the start of the 200m.  The runners are called to take off their sweats and stand behind their blocks.  Johnson sits on my left and Adeniken on my right.  I look at Johnson, he looks at me…no words.  I turn and look at Adeniken, he looks at me…no words.  To this day I’m not sure if they were really looking at me…or looking THROUGH me:)

In 1996 I was a sophomore in college.  I had run what would end up being my lifetime best in the 10K on Friday night with my mom and grandma present.  They had left my grandpa (who never missed any of my races in HS or college races in Iowa), but was very ill at the hospital in Webster City to come watch at his request.  Early on Saturday morning with my mom and grandma at his side my grandpa asked how I had run.  They told him about my PR and then a few hours later he passed.  My mom didn’t call to tell me until I had returned to Cedar Falls after the meet that evening.  She said she waited to call because grandpa knew how much I enjoyed being at the Drake Relays.

I don’t have to tell my athlete’s stories about Drake to pump them up.  It has become a meet that everyone in our program knows about and a trip they all strive to make.   Between our current and past athletes experiences along with they way our kids are treated when they are at the meet provides all the motivation they need to be successful at America’s Athletic Classic.

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 cyclones.com, 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.