|Photo courtesy of University of |
In Kenya, the family remains the center of people's lives. On Saturday, Keller's two sisters and her mother were with at the meet to watch her claim the winner's trophy in the Women's (NCAA)Division III race at the Griak Invitational. As she carried the trophy back to where her family was waiting, she held the trophy up telling her sister that she had a present for her before handing her the statue of a woman runner. "It even looks like you," Keller said. of the figure mounted on a wood pedestal. The playful banter made light of the fact that a win at the Griak was four years in the making, a goal Keller thought was very attainable after last year's runner-up finish.
Keller triumphed in every meet she ran last year except the Griak and finished a seventh place finish in the NCAA Division III women's XC Championships. This year her goals included a Griak win and a challenge for the individual Division III national championship. A senior, Keller will graduate with a degree in elementary education with the goal of becoming a math teacher because while running does many good things for her personally, ultimately she wants to do something that benefits others.
As a math teacher, she is analytical, noting that her runner-up finish boded well for success at Griak, and that the graduation of several of the runners who finished in front of her at NCAA's last year makes the possibility of moving up in the standings this year a good bet. Yet she was still nervous at the start when the meet announcer told everyone that she was last year's runner up. Like a Kenyan or a Norwegian, she is modest about what she has achieved and never overconfident of what she might accomplish.
When she was asked if becoming an Olympian one day was one of her goals, she said no, not now, as she still considers that aspiration perhaps something she is not yet capable of fitting into her potential accomplishments. Running is just part of her life, not something that defines who she is, Keller says. She doesn't want too lofty a goal, but rather modest, step-by-step ones that allow her to progress, but not get so invested in a larger goal that the disappointment of not reaching it leaves her "pounding the ground, crying. I don't want to be that girl," Keller says.
Still, she told her family afterwards that her thoughts before the Griak race were: "This one is mine." In the early going, the nervousness remained as she was engulfed in the pack. She's not a pack runner, she noted, she's more comfortable with a strategy like the Kenyans employ of bolting out into the lead and taking charge from the front She learned last year that this strategy might not be the best for her. "At mile three I paid for it," Keller said.
"What did we do wrong this year," she remembers her coach Jeremy Karger Gatzow saying to her after the race. This year the the plan was to be patient, to wait for the right moment, and last year's talk of mistakes was replaced by a post-race high five. Mission accomplished, next step Nationals, but even that is a goal not an obsession. When her college career is over she wants to be remembered like former Gopher runner Nikki Swenson, who, after beating Keller in a race came to her aid when Keller fell down after the finish, exhausted. "She helped me up, got me a drink of water, made sure I was OK," said Keller.
Swenson's humanity impressed Keller more than her athletic prowess. Like the Kenyans who take their winnings back home to help their families and communities, Keller wants to make things better for those around her. Running is just something she's good at, that improves her confidence and self esteem. A way for her to set goals, plan for how to achieve them, and train hard enough to accomplish them.
Lest one think she is Mother Teresa, she uttered the words "love triangle" in an innocent reference to a non-personal matter that drew the attention of her sisters. "We want to hear more about this love triangle," they joked, as Linda blushed. She had her long blond hair in a pony tail and wore a golden headband made of sequins that a teammate had made for all the team members. Like the rest of her teammates she likes to have fun, and enjoys the company of the team. She is the "star," but her teammates just treat her like one of "the tribe."
She gives the credit to her success to her coach whose training program and advice has helped her achieve her goals. She sees her racing success as a validation of the program he's put together for her. He gives her the freedom to make decisions, such as doing a pool workout on the Wednesday before the race, instead of a run because her knees felt a bit stressed and tight. Like her classes, running is just another learning experience for Keller. One in which her "grades" are exceptional.