By Elias Williams
Big 12 Campus Correspondent
During her freshman year of high school, Big 12 champion Kaela Edwards quit the track team after one practice. Nearly eight years later, the junior middle distance specialist has become one of the top women’s 800- and 1,000-meter runners in the country, has two Big 12 titles and even has an Oklahoma State school record under her belt.
Edwards came to OSU from Highlands Ranch, Colorado, an unincorporated suburb of Denver. She graduated from Littleton High School after transferring there after her freshman year. Although she hadn’t run track before, she said that her love of running didn’t go away, and Littleton is where it thrived.
“During my freshman year I went to one day of track practice, said it sucked and never went back,” Edwards said. “I always played other sports, though. I played basketball and when we did suicides I would always want to beat everyone.”
Edwards’s mother ran track and her father played football and basketball in high school, which is where Edwards says she gets her athleticism and competitiveness from.
“When I transferred, I decided to run track again just because I really liked running,” Edwards said. “It went pretty well, so I kept going. In my junior year I started to run cross country. I would say that is when I really started training.”
Edwards went on to anchor the 2011 Littleton 4 X 400 relay team that currently holds the Colorado state record at 3:45.69. She received honor after honor throughout her career at Littleton, winning team MVP twice, Littleton Female Athlete of the Year and earning a No. 6 national ranking among females in the 800 as a senior. All of those accolades quickly caught the attention of college track programs across the country, including Oklahoma State.
“OSU was my first visit and when I went there I felt like I belonged to the team,” Edwards said. “I got along with everyone really well and I felt really comfortable, plus Dave (Smith) is awesome.”
Even though she visited two other schools after her trip to Stillwater, Edwards said that she knew that she would end up as a Cowgirl all along.
In 2014, Edwards had a breakout sophomore indoor campaign for the Cowgirls. She squeaked into Nationals claiming the last spot in the 16-person field in the women’s 800-meter run following a few scratches by runners ahead of her on the qualifying list.
“When I got there I was really freaked out and I kind of cried a little bit before because running is a really emotional thing for me,” Edwards said.
Despite being a scratch entry at her first NCAA Championships meet, Edwards qualified for the final, again claiming the last spot in the race finishing eighth. In the final, Edwards rose to the occasion and finished third. She received first-team All-American honors that year to go along with two All-Big 12 honors and an Academic All-Big 12 nod.
“Kaela’s third-place finish in the National Championships was totally unexpected last year,” middle distance coach Bobby Lockhart said. “She’s running much better than she was last year, so I think she has a chance to contend for the win. There are a lot of great competitors in the 800 this year, but she’s one of them.”
Fresh off another successful Big 12 Championships meet, this time complete with two titles to her name, Edwards is looking ahead to her second straight NCAA Championships appearance.
“I know what to expect this year, so I think my nerves are a little more under control,” Edwards said. “There are a lot of people this year that I didn’t compete against last year. There are four other girls in front of me and I haven’t raced them yet, so I’m just excited to go out there and try to win.”
Back in February, Edwards qualified for the NCAA Championships by running the fifth fastest 800 in the NCAA this season, and a career-best 2:03.70 – also good for the second-fastest 800 in OSU history. She took that momentum into the Big 12 Championships where she broke a 24-year-old facility record and 10-year-old meet record in the 1,000-meter run. Her 2:43.11 was more than two seconds faster than the previous records.
“At last year’s Big 12’s, I didn’t win,” Edwards said. “So winning two titles this year was really fun, and running on the relay was really fun because I wasn’t just running for myself – it’s just motivating.”
Edwards anchored the Big 12 champion women’s distance medley relay team for the Cowgirls, beating second-place Baylor by eight seconds.
“Kaela was absolutely phenomenal,” coach Dave Smith said. “She broke the conference record, broke the facility record and broke the school record. The first thing she said to me after the race was, ‘that was fun!’ That’s just ‘understated Kaela.’ If you know her, you know she’s just kindhearted and sweet like that.”
With all of the success that Edwards has had indoors, her outdoor résumé is relatively short.
“I haven’t had an outdoor season yet, due to injury,” Edwards said. “I ran one 1,500 last year, but it was when my injury started and it just didn’t go well, so I don’t really count it.”
While her last two outdoor seasons have been cut short by injury, Edwards said that she is itching to get back to competing in the spring again.
“I’m really excited and I think that the third year’s the charm,” Edwards said. “I’m just doing all that I can to run on a 400-meter track again – under the sun.”
As the outdoor season approaches, Edwards is preparing to make another splash nationally as she did during her sophomore indoor season.
“I think in the outdoor season I’ll stick with the 800 and the 1,500 because I ran the mile in the DMR, so I’d like to run it open,” Edwards said. “The 800 is my bread and butter, though.”
In just three indoor seasons, Edwards has solidified her place in OSU track and field history.
“I knew deep down that OSU was the best choice,” she said. “I knew it was right for me.”