Nelson Leads by Action
AMES, Iowa- Meaghan Nelson was not a heavily recruited distance runner out of high school, but the Cyclones found a true competitor in the Cedar Rapids, Iowa native. Tested by injuries and personal tragedy, Nelson defied the odds and overcame the adversities that plagued her. Now she is in her final collegiate season as a four-time All-American.
Iowa State track and cross country head coach Corey Ihmels felt that Nelson realized after last season that she is one of the best distance runners in the country.
Growing up, Nelson was involved in numerous activities. When it came to sports, she took to swimming in her younger years and didn't even start getting into running until middle school.
"I remember doing my first 1500 at the Iowa Games before I even started track and I really didn't want to do it," Nelson said. "My mom said I really should, so I ended up going through with it. I remember being in the back and I was just not wanting to be there. At one point I decided I would just run hard and I ended up winning the race."
Nelson thought her mom must have known she had it in her all along. At Xavier High School, the future Cyclone joined the cross country team in her sophomore year and also competed in volleyball, swimming, track, and basketball.
"Track went well and my coach convinced me that I should go out for cross country in the fall," Nelson said. "I did both swimming and cross country, which proved difficult."
Her success in cross country was undeniable. Nelson went on to place second, first, and second in her three years at the Class 4A Iowa High School State Cross Country Championships.
"I was fortunate to have had a very good team and a group of girls to run with everyday," Nelson said. "It was really easy to go to practice and be with them because we all enjoyed being together."
Coming out of high school, Nelson was only being looked at by a handful of colleges. She looked at Iowa, South Carolina, and Iowa State.
"When I came on my visit to Iowa State it just really felt like the right fit and I knew I wanted to come here right after my visit," Nelson said.
It was Ihmels that really sealed the deal.
"He has the right personality and coaching style for what I prefer and I really felt like he was working to move the program in the right direction," Nelson explained. "Mostly, I liked how honest he was with me."
Nelson's time as a Cyclone has been an accomplished journey. Through the years she has compiled numerous awards and honors in both collegiate cross country and track as a four-time All-American. She did it all while being a dedicated student, racking up academic honors as a three-time Academic All-Big 12 first-team honoree in cross country and track & field. She was also named the 2012 Big 12 Cross Country Scholar Athlete of the Year. Nelson graduated in December with a 3.78 GPA in kinesiology.
On the track, in her very first collegiate 10,000-meter run, Nelson was the 2012 Stanford Invitational's fast section top-collegiate finisher with a time of 32:33. She thus qualified her for the 2012 U.S. Olympic Trials. Nelson finished fourth in the NCAA Outdoor 10,000 meters. She placed 12th at the U.S. Olympic Trials.
"It was an intense experience," Nelson said. "It was just really great to see where you can go in this sport and it motivated me to want to continue on."
Nelson has been no stranger to injuries. Her freshman year she had a stress fracture from the indoor season, which returned during her sophomore cross country season, but she ran through the pain. Nelson suffered hamstring issues her junior year which was followed up with an ankle/leg injury that set her back three months. It was a separate hamstring injury that occurred right before the indoor conference meet that caused her to redshirt both the cross country and outdoor seasons.
Nelson attributes her perseverance to her parents, Gregg and Kate. Nelson says she owes her resilient attitude to her mom, who taught her hard work, caring for others, and commitment.
Kate passed away last spring after a long battle with cancer.
Nelson's mom's passing happened right before the Big 12 Championships, effectively causing her to miss competing in the meet.
"The week my mom passed away was right before the conference meet and my teammates were going to be leaving that Wednesday," Nelson said. "My friends and coaches put my family and what I was going through above that, however, and they showed up for the service on Thursday delaying their departure to be with me. That really meant a lot to me, that's just the people they are."
Nelson struggled with the loss but found solace in her family, team, and coaches.
Ihmels was there for her every step of the way.
"Coach was the first person I talked to when I got the phone call that my mom had possibly hours left to live," Nelson said. "He told me he would drive me home and really took care of me when I needed someone."
Despite the tragedy, Nelson persevered and continued her success as a runner. Most recently, Nelson set a personal best in the 5,000 meters at the Stanford Invitational. Her strength in part came from her mother.
"My mom was always the type of person that fought through everything, regardless of the situation," Nelson said. "I have loved my time here at Iowa State. The team and coaching staff have been a really good fit for me and it has been amazing to be a part of a program that has come such a long way from where it was."
Nelson credits the program's rise to the upperclassmen that helped shape Iowa State track into what it is now.
"I want people to be able to say the same thing about my class, that we helped turn the program around and make it one of the best in the country," Nelson said.
During her time at Iowa State, Nelson has truly relished her experiences and opportunities.
"I have made my best friends here at Iowa State, I will be friends with my teammates and coaches for the rest of my life," Nelson explained, "The coaches are great here. They really care about the athletes and I think they contribute to the unique vibe that we have."
Nelson's accomplishments have exceeded her expectations.
"I never thought I would be competing at the level I am today, it just goes to show what you can do with the right coaches and the right individuals surrounding you."