Olympian Lisa (Koll) Uhl spoke Thursday to Fort Dodge Community School District’s cross country teams about dedication.
Uhl, a Fort Dodge native and 2005 graduate, finished 13th in the 10,000 meter run at the London Olympic Games last year.
“Growing up, I did pretty much every sport except running,” Uhl said. “I did soccer, softball, gymnastics. I thought it was boring; I wasn’t really into it.”
Uhl started running with her father and brother, but still preferred sports that involved hand-eye coordination, she said. She participated in track in seventh grade because her friends were doing it. In eighth grade, she was encouraged to join the cross country team by coach David Newman.
“When I started I was literally the worst person on the team. I was maybe third to last,” Uhl said. “By the end of it, I was third on the team.”
Because Uhl saw herself getting better at the sport, she continued with it.
“I fell in love with running. I quit every other sport, decided I was going to focus on running when I went to high school,” she said. “My freshman year of high school, I ended up being the No. 1 runner on varsity.”
About the sport, Uhl loved that she could run on her own.
“All I really needed was a pair of shoes and I could go do it with my friends. It was really enjoyable for me,” she said. “And I could see myself getting better, that was the biggest thing. Even with school, I loved seeing myself learn things over time.”
Driven to continually improve, Uhl eventually placed in the top 10 statewide in high school.
“I just kind of had these gradual progressions,” she said. “It’s not like I had one year where everything went fantastically and all of a sudden I was one of the best runners in the state. I just put in the time. I’d run in the winter. And I just gradually saw myself getting better year after year. There was nothing magical about it.”
After high school, Uhl chose Iowa State University for its veterinarian program rather than its athletics.
In college, she dedicated herself to running and doing the little things: getting enough sleep, icing, increasing mileage in a smart way and eating right, she said.
“I would get up at 6 in the morning and go run my seven miles. And then I’d go to work, work 8 to 5 And then I’d come home and have dinner and go for my second run and get four miles in,” she said. “I made this huge jump because I paid attention to those little things and rededicated myself to sports.”
After winning NCAA titles, she qualified for the Olympic trials in Oregon and placed eighth.
“I remember being so disappointed and then I thought, you know, two years ago I would have been so happy that I just got to experience this,” she said.
Uhl’s goal after Oregon became joining the 2012 Olympic team. She earned her undergraduate degree, and decided to complete her graduate work part time to focus on her sport.
“I won three NCAA titles that year,” she said. “It was an amazing end to my career and I was really thankful for that.”
After college, Uhl was approached by various shoe companies to run professionally. She is a Nike-sponsored athlete.
“My job would be to represent the brand, to run in big track meets, U.S. championship meets, Olympic trials,” she said. “My job is running. I had no idea that was a job, but I was like, that’s a good gig. Because being an Olympic athlete is a full-time job.”
Uhl moved to Oregon to train, but injured herself. It was not the first time.
“Those have really been the defining moments of my career I think, the years where I was injured and things weren’t going great, because it’s so easy to give up and it’s so hard to push through that,” she said. “It’s so hard to have faith it’s going to come back, especially when you’ve had something so great happen. You’re like, how am I ever going to be that good again.”
Uhl offered some advice to the cross country teams.
“Something I’ve learned is … be dedicated to what you do, but do it smart, do it right,” she said. “Talk to your coaches. Don’t go crazy, you’re going to end up being injured. But also, don’t slack off because then you’re not going to get any better. It’s all about finding a balance.”