Naomi Welling knows how to make a splash.
Welling won three state championships in her Thunder Mountain High School track debut five years ago. Over the next three years, the speedster won nine more state titles, set half a dozen regional and state records and propelled the TMHS girls to two top-three finishes at the state meet.
Welling wasn’t necessarily out to make another splash entering college. This might explain why she was perfectly content walking on to the Brigham Young University women’s track team, a Division I program loaded with All-Americans.
“You switch from your focusing on your place in the race to your personal performance,” Welling said. “Which is really good and has increased my love of running on an internal level.”
Through two seasons, Welling has competed in 15 meets (both indoor and outdoor), specializing in the 400-meter hurdles. Welling, who is taking a break from running next year to study in Israel, spoke to the Empire last week from Cordova. The 2016 TMHS graduate and Wildlife and Wildlands Conservation major talks about making the jump from high school to college track and running in a new event. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Juneau Empire: What’s been the biggest adjustment for you running track as a Division I college athlete?
Naomi Welling: I was pleasantly surprised when I first got there at how easy it was to be a part of this team culture. You do sports in Southeast Alaska and it’s kind of a very small pond, which is awesome because you form some really good friendships and have these healthy activities to do after school. But it was really cool to be able to step up to the next level and run with all these really, really talented people that were super-passionate about running. That being said, because it was Division I, I would say there’s some early morning weight practices that took a little bit of adjusting to. Those start at 7 and then we have two-a-days. So we would then take a break, go to class, and then go workout in the afternoon. So just kind of getting adjusted to this 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. schedule — that’s about how long it takes to do both the workouts and go to class and eat and everything.
Empire: You came in second in a few races in the 400 hurdles this year. Can you talk about how you’ve been able to improve and really focus in on that event?
Welling: By the time you get to college most people will specialize out into either the 100 hurdles or the 400 hurdles. Because in high school I had a little bit more success in the 300, I walked onto the team as a 400-meter hurdler. You never run that event in high school and so you get to college and everybody’s like, ‘What the heck are we doing?’ Your workouts all bump up in intensity because you have this extra 100 meters of obstacles that you’re trying to get over without losing your form completely. It’s been, I would say just longer workouts trying to adjust into that race because the hurdle height is the same, you just have to train your body to be able to stick it out for a little bit longer.
Empire: How would you sum up this past season as a sophomore? Did you do as well as you had hoped?
Welling: There’s always room for improvement. I found that I was totally willing to dedicate a lot of my free time to the sport of track and field but at the same time it was really important for me to have a balance with my school work as well. I was definitely more happy with my sophomore season. Freshman season, like I said, it’s kind of a learning game to try to figure out how to get your body to run that extra 100 meters efficiently. So I felt like going into sophomore season I had the initial training underneath my belt, my body was in a little better condition and I just mentally knew what was going on so the races felt a lot smoother and I was able to just run for fun instead of just having this big learning experience every time I stepped into the blocks.
Empire: What’s been the highlight of your college career so far?
Welling: Probably just traveling around with the team. We’ve traveled to California, Iowa, Colorado. We just bump around a lot in the Midwest and on the West Coast. It’s been a blast to just travel around with all these talented athletes doing something that I really love.
Empire: As you improve in the 400 hurdles, how far away would a berth to nationals be for you?
Welling: It would honestly be quite a bit of a jump. It’s so incredibly competitive. At this point, I’m running it to round out my experience in college and I’m running it to stay healthy and be with this group of people that I really love.