Only a few Olympians have walked the halls of Murray State University in its nearly 90 year history. The rifle team has seen a handful. MSU’s shooting range is named for Pat Spurgin who won Gold in the 1984 Olympics, heading up a team of four Racer’s who competed that year. They were followed 20 years later by Morgan Hicks who also competed in the rifle competition. But outside of shooting, there has only been one other MSU Olympic athlete. Heather Samuel went to Murray State from 1991 to 1994, running and jumping for the track team. She set numerous OVC records, and she competed in the 2000 Olympics. Now, two decades after Samuel attended Murray State, another runner hopes to follow in her footsteps. Alexis Love is competing in the Olympic Trials this week in Eugene, Oregon. Gary Pitts has this peek into the training routine of MSU’s Olympic hopeful.
When I took the short ride over to Stewart Stadium to watch one of Alexis Love’s training sessions, it was hot and humid. I rode my bike, and by the time I got there, my shirt was soaked through with sweat. A rough day to be out training, but Alexis hardly seems to notice. She’s out on the football field warming up. Running high knees and butt kickers from the end zone to the thirty yard line. Small beads of rubber fly up from the astroturf with each step. When she’s finished with warm-ups, she comes over for a second, the intense look on her face momentarily replaced with a smile.
“Hi, I’m Alexis,” says Alexis.
She heads down to the locker room, and comes back up with track cleats in hand. The metal spikes scrape on the concrete as she puts them on. Coach silently beckons. It’s time for the first run of the day. The intense look is back.
“She’s very visual…,” says Coach Adam Keisler.
That’s Assistant track and field coach Adam Keisler. He says the intensity reflects Alexis’ mental preparation for each run.
“She pictures herself running different parts of the race. You know, she always thinks about that stuff, which is good,” says Coach Keisler.
After taking those few moments to preview the run in her mind, she’s on her mark, she’s gets set, and she goes. Her stride is a near perfect blend of power and grace. Her footfalls barely make a sound as she glides around the track. This first run is a 300 meter dash, three quarters of the way around the track. As her 5’7”, 130 pound frame comes blazing through the finish line, Coach Keisler looks at the time, shaking his head with a smirk on his face. 36.93 seconds. A new PR.
“It’s a personal record, or personal best. Basically, it’s faster than what you ran the week or the month before,” says Alexis.
Love has seen steady improvement in this, her junior year at Murray State. She has almost weekly set a new PR. At the NCAA Outdoor Championship earlier this year, she ran a personal best in the 200 meter finals breaking Olympian Heather Samuel’s OVC record. And her times in the finals in both the 100 and 200 meter runs qualified her for the Olympic trials in both events. After finishing her best 300 meter run ever, Coach Keisler allows Alexis a few minutes to come and talk with me. She’s breathing heavily, and walking gingerly. I ask her how she’s feeling.
“Ran that pretty fast, which was good. But after the race, my body was hurting so bad. But at the same time, I know it’s a good feeling, it’s gonna pay off. So I describe it as bitter sweet, Yeah, it hurts, but it feels good at the end,” says Love.
Today’s a speed and strength training day. She’s got a few more minutes before she has to run again. And she tries to get a few more.
“Can I get an extra two minutes Coach?” asks Love
His silence means no. Coach Keislor keeps Alexis on a strict training schedule. He’s never trained anyone with so much potential before.
“Have I coached anybody like her before? No. I mean she’s pretty special. She’s pretty special. When she gets her mind right, and her attitude right, she can do a lot,” says Keisler
We talk about what it means for her to have the chance to go to the Olympics, and Alexis beams a smile almost in disbelief that it’s a possibility. She says she’s nervous, but she feels like she is physically prepared. Alexis Love is as fast and as strong as she’s ever been. So the biggest challenge is mental.
“It’s gonna be pretty intense, but I know I can do it. If I’ve made it through conference, regionals and nationals, its possible,” says Alexis.
It’s time for the next run. The intense look re-appears as she prepares. I wait at the finish line as she comes through. Another great run. After this one, she and Coach Keisler head to the weight room. No rest for the weary. I came into the day thinking it might be fun to challenge her to a race. But after seeing just how fast she is, I thought better of it. Still, I was curious as to how my time would compare to hers. So I set up my own 300 meter run.
Pulled a hammy. My time, DNF. Did Not Finish. So now that my Olympic dreams are dashed, we can all rally behind Alexis Love as she tries to run her way to London this week.
Alexis Love ran the 100 meter trial this weekend in Eugene. She fell short of qualifying for London this summer. She starts trials later this week to qualify for the 200 meter run, her best event.