COLUMBIA, Mo. – Missouri distance coach Marc Burns received a text from a friend a few days ago.
His friend was at a pizza restaurant and on the T.V. was the Southeastern Conference Outdoor Track and Field Championships. He wanted to relay the scene that he was witnessing, as people gathered around focused on senior Karissa Schweizer in her final SEC meet.
“He was like, ‘You should see all of these people gawking at what Karissa is doing on screen,’” Burns said of the text. “It’s people who don’t even know track. You don’t even know ... It’s everywhere. It’s everywhere. People everywhere are talking about what she’s doing and that’s hard to fathom.”
The idea that people would be gathered around watching her win her eighth SEC championship never crossed Schweizer’s mind. But that’s what happens when you are one of Missouri’s most decorated athletes.
The five-time NCAA champion is heading into her final NCAA Outdoor Championship this week. She will run the 10,000-meter run on Thursday and the 5,000-meter run on Saturday.
A chance at pushing that total to seven is possible, as Schweizer has the top seed time in both events. If, before she came to Missouri, you would’ve told her she would win even one national championship she wouldn’t have believed you.
“Never would’ve dreamt of this kind of stuff,” she said. “I’m really just taking it all in and every now and then when I have a bad workout for a bad day, I just kind of look back at how far I’ve come and just take that in and trust the process.”
That process has seen Schweizer turn from a runner who, in high school, would open her races as fast as possible and lose momentum at the end, to one who knows when to hold back. The same process has turned her, not only into a household name, but a runner with the confidence to know she can compete in every race.
That seed of confidence began to sprout after her freshman year.
Her goals at Missouri were simple when she came in. She wanted to qualify for the national meet and place at the SEC meet. Well, she accomplished both in her freshman cross country season.
“That was not expected,” Burns said. “That was crazy.”
After placing 17th at the SEC cross country meet, Schweizer finished seventh in the NCAA Midwest Regional.
“I just remember going into the regional meet and nobody was expecting me to make it. That almost drives me to want to make it more,” Schweizer said. “I had a lot of confidence in myself going into that race and I wanted to prove people wrong. Going in I wanted to just show that I could make it and be on a national level. I think that did help my confidence.”
That was just the beginning of her progression.
At the NCAA Outdoor Track and Field Championships her sophomore year, she finished third in the 5,000 with a time of 16 minutes, 02.82 seconds.
That performance opened everybody’s eyes. For awhile in practice, Schweizer had shown the kick that she had in that NCAA meet. It was just a matter of showing it on the big stage.
“It’s one thing to do it here, but it’s another thing to transfer it to the NCAA championships,” Burns said. “That was, I think, her moment where she was like ‘I can do some great things here. I’m only a sophomore and I just did this?’ That was where it triggered I think.”
Burns said there is no magic workout to turn into a national-championship caliber runner.
“It’s just a slow progression and her taking care of her body,” he said. “She rests right. She eats right. She drinks fluid throughout the day. She does things before she gets banged up to stay healthy. ... She has approached things at a professional level.”
Along with the physical side of the progression, there is a mental side to it, especially in distance running.
Schweizer’s habit of not holding any energy back out of the gates was something she had to work at. Her freshman year there was a group of girls that were faster than her and she wanted to run with them every day.
“Burns would make me work out with them one day and a slower group the other day,” Schweizer said. “It was constantly holding me back. It was frustrating at times, but it paid off in the end.”
“Sometimes you think think the harder you work the more it’s going to pay off, but for me it’s controlling it,” Schweizer said.
Although it may seem that running is an individual sport, changing that mindset took a group effort she said.
“Good teammates and good coaches who have been able to hold me back and push me when I need to as well,” Schweizer said.
Her progression, in all aspects, has been obvious as the championships have come rolling in. Her five national championships are the most of any Missouri athlete in school history.
Her confidence is sky high and its rubbed off on the team around her, Burns said.
“If anything else it shows everybody here that it’s possible,” he said. “She wasn’t a Foot Locker champion. She wasn’t a Junior National Champion. She worked hard and paid attention to detail and developed this thing one step at a time. Everybody in our programs sees that and believes that they can, maybe not win the national championship, but get to the national meet and be an All-American and I think that’s huge.”
That’s all Schweizer has wanted.
As she finishes one of her final practices as a Missouri runner, she’s flanked by Burns and assistant coach Will Crocker, who paced her during her workout.
When asked what it means knowing that people who know nothing about track were gathered around a TV cheering her on, her answer showed the pride she had in her time at Missouri.
“It’s really special,” she said. “I like to show people that it can be done here and that this is a strong environment. All you need is people to support you.”
She’s not done yet, though.