Leaving it on the track: Nelson finds footing as one of nation’s elite

Megan Meadow, Photo Editor

Long distance runners often do not get the attention they deserve. Their hard work and dedication is overlooked compared to the sports broadcasted on TV every day. However, one distance runner has captured the attention of the running world—and deservingly so. Her name is Karisa Nelson.

Nelson, a junior, is a native of Brewton, Alabama. Before she was a runner she was a competitive swimmer. She said she hated the sport, so her parents made a deal with her: She could quit swimming as long as she promised to try long distance running. She ran her first 5K when she was 8 years old and fell in love with the sport.

“I love running because you get to be outside and wherever you travel you can just go for a run and see more of the place you’re at, and you don’t need anything but a pair of shoes,” Nelson said. “You get to test yourself mentally and physically.”

Nelson’s road to success was not always easy. There were days when she wanted to quit, but her parents pushed her to keep going.

“The year before I was 15 I had experienced a lot of success, and then I started growing up. I wasn’t a skinny, little girl anymore. I wasn’t even close to my times from the previous year, and I wasn’t winning races like I used to,” Nelson said. “It’s very difficult to get through that, to experience a lot of success, then your body changes on you, and you have to work twice as hard to do what you did before.”

When the time for college came around, Nelson had dreamed of running for the University of Alabama. However, her mother urged her to visit Samford. When she did, she found a home in the school and with the team.

Nelson won the 2016 Southern Conference cross-country championship and has captured three SoCon individual track and field titles over the course of her Samford career. She also has qualified to run at three NCAA Division I national championships, including this year’s indoor track and field edition.

“The leadership and the heart that she shows every time she races makes everyone want to do better. She makes me want to do better as a coach,” Samford head coach Rod Tiffin said.

Nelson’s work ethic and drive to be successful has had a positive influence on the Samford distance team. Nelson pushes and inspires her teammates to be better.

“Karisa is always focused on the little things and reminds us the importance of them,” freshman teammate Presley Weems said. “She makes sure our team is involved together and encourages and builds up the team at practice and races.”

What’s next for this distance star? Nelson has some big dreams.

“I want to win a national championship title before I graduate. Then after I graduate I want to run professionally, and of course every pro’s dream is to run in the Olympics,” Nelson said. “I will do everything I can to make that dream reality. I don’t want to look back one day and wonder what would have happened if I had tried harder.”

The future is bright for this distance star. With her work ethic and competitive spirit, she will run very far.

Nelson and redshirt sophomore pole vaulter Tray Oates will compete this weekend, March 10-11, at the NCAA Division I Indoor Track and Field Championships in College Station, Texas. Nelson will enter the meet seeded 13th in the mile with a personal-best time of 4 minutes, 35.55 seconds. Oates will enter the meet seeded 14th in the pole vault. He posted a clearance of 5.46 meters on Feb. 10.

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