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Nelson earns national title at indoor championships

The time was 4.31.24.

The moment– filled with grit, fatigue and jovial celebration– is forever captured. Arms spread out wide, and eyes closed it looks as if Samford University junior and Brewton native Karisa Nelson is about to take flight.

And soar she did, as Nelson coasted down-the-stretch of the women’s mile run to a national title at the NCAA Indoor Track and Field Championships in College Station, Texas.

“When I was walking around after the race, it was starting to sink in that I won,” Nelson said. “I was so excited, grinning really, just being so happy I won. Now it’s still surreal but I’ve calmed down a bit.”

Nelson said the race went exactly how she planned.

“I wanted to stay with the front of the group for the majority of the race,” Nelson said. “It’s hard to lead the whole time. If I took off in the beginning it wouldn’t have went well, so I conserved my energy. About the last 200 meters I started passing the others. Since the curves are a little higher on the indoor track I wanted to really take the lead on the straight ahead.”

Despite leading the pack in the preliminaries with a time of 4.35.31, Nelson was not the perennial favorite to win in the finals. Defending champion at the time, Oklahoma State senior Kaela Edwards was a strong contender to repeat, as well as  Elinor Purrier of New Hampshire, who placed third last year. Nelson said being the underdog doesn’t bother her.

“Being an underdog motivates me,” Nelson said. “It pushes me even more to perform at my best.”

Nelson points out she gets nervous before races, but doesn’t let the nerves hold her back.

“I don’t get nervous until about three hours before a race,” Nelson said. “About an hour before, I start to calm down, and then I get nervous right before I get to the line. But when I hear the gun go off I’m fine.”

Nelson said she is thankful for the time invested in her career by her coaches.

“I want to thank all of them,” she said. “Alan Ash for always believing that I could be one of the best even when I was at my lowest point in my career. Coach Rob Atkinson for pushing me even when I wanted to quit. He kept me in the game before I even realized my dream to be an elite runner.”

Nelson’s historic title proved to be the first NCAA championship in Samford University history.

Nelson said she is looking forward to the USATF Nationals and possibly qualifying in the World Championships. Her ultimate goal is to compete in the Tokyo 2020 Olympics.

Nelson is a 2014 graduate of T.R. Miller.