Heidi Nielson was beginning to develop into one of the better high school runners in the state. Now she’s making a name for herself on the national level.
Nielson, a rising junior at Cinco Ranch High, won the Adidas Boost Boston Games High School Dream Mile race June 16. A week later, she finished second at the United States of America Track & Field Under-20 National Championships 5K race in Miramar, Florida to qualify for Team USA at the Pan-American U20 Championships July 18-21 in Costa Rica.
“It was a really cool experience. It was really nice to go to Boston with Adidas,” Nielson said. “It was a big win for me.”
Selected by Adidas as one of the nation’s top runners, which included college athletes, Nielson made the most of Beantown before validating herself in Miami. Now she’s got her sights set on something bigger.
“That made me really excited and hopeful for my future as a runner,” she said. “I love running because you get out of it what you put into it. The races are always fun, and you’re always going to meet great people in the running world.”
In other words, let the recruiting process begin.
Immediately after her success in Boston and Miami, college coaches began reaching out to her. While the courting process is just beginning, there’s no telling how high the ceiling is for Nielson.
Her dad can explain.
“To see that it’s starting to pay off in not only marginal success, but significant success, where I’m not going to have to pay for college … it’s just incredible,” Kai Nielson said. “You’re actually having meaningful tangible offers. That’s assuming the trajectory. There’s no guarantees.”
Right now, Nielson is a lock, and she’s done it with considerable improvement — even from the end of the high school track season. She finished second in the 1,600 meters at the state meet in May. She was fourth in the two-mile. In the cross country season, Nielson was fourth in the state as a sophomore.
“Her national results are considerably better than she’s done at the state level,” her father said. “In terms of the future, there’s all kinds of coaches drooling over her. She’ll be one of the top five recruits in the country.”
Of course, Nielson isn’t an overnight success, even though in a month’s time she’s gone from “almost” at the state level to a “can’t miss” on the national scene. An A’s and B’s student, she started running in elementary school. After a friend talked her into running for a local track club and her dad signed her up for the Turkey Dash and other fun runs in Katy, her passion for the pavement grew.
Now she’s churning out miles like an Indy car around the oval. And there isn’t a much better feeling than crossing the finish line first.
“I’m just always trying to get a little bit faster, and it’s been working,” Nielson said. “I’m just continuing to improve.”
She’s getting to that point from her zero-in-on-the-task-and-conquer mentality — every step of the way.
“One race at a time,” she said. “Really focusing on the goal at each one, and also being able to focus on the bigger picture at the same time.”
The bigger picture, of course, is continued success at the national events and landing a big-time college scholarship. While the offers will come, it’s still nice to revel over Beantown bragging rights.
“The Boston one was probably the best one for me,” her father said. “Just getting to that meet … to go in and win it, I couldn’t believe it. It almost brought a tear to my eye. The reason I say that is because the way these girls work, it’s just incredible that it’s starting to pay off.”
And to think, it started as a simple plea by her father to get his wife, Heather, into shape by hitting the open road. He coaxed his older daughter Isabella, now a runner at Dixie State University, into running as well, and Heidi followed suit.
When Nielson was in junior high, she started running for coach Rick Frank, who made a lasting impact on her career. His influence has remained with her, and she’s gradually climbed the upward plane to the opportunity that now awaits in Costa Rica.
“She’s kind of methodical,” Kai said. “She has her plan, and just sticks to it. Better than I could ever imagine.
“You really have to impress the right Adidas executives to get in (to the Boston race), and she got that done. She knew exactly what was the requirement, and she just nailed it. For her to just know what those marks are, and just hit them … that’s kind of the thing that amazes me.”
Nielson is just as meticulous about video blogging as she is about running. Everything has to be right. And she’s done it by chronicling her races, making memory videos that will help her recapture some of the smiles on the courses she’s conquered and people she’s met.
“She doesn’t watch TV,” her dad said. “She works hard at school. Her hobbies are educational, stuff that takes work and skill. She’s not just satisfied with mundane. I have a sister who everything has to be just right. That’s the way Heidi is. There’s no down time.”