Olling of women's track's "Big Three" sidelined by injury

Freesoil senior Kelly Schubert stands and catches her breath with Wheeler sophomore Kirsten Olling after their race on Oct. 31 at the MAC Championship in Akron, Ohio. Monica Bradburn | Assistant Photo Editor

Before the season began, track & field head coach Mark Guthrie said he was particularly excited about three female athletes. 

Senior Kelly Schubert, junior Megan O’Neil, and junior Kirsten Olling were expected to lead the distance athletes, which Guthrie considered to be the strongest asset for the Central Michigan women’s team.

“They all come from great high school programs,” Guthrie said, “While they’re obviously talented, it’s what's between the ears that sets them apart. I like to call them my ‘Big Three.’” 

Schubert took four top-five individual finishes in her five indoor meets, while O’Neil’s shining moment was setting the school record in the mile with a 4:49.13 finish in February.

The two of them paired to be half of the distance medley relay as well. Central’s DMR took third in the MAC Indoor Championships, setting a new school record with 11:42.15 to finish out what was already an outstanding season.

Unfortunately for Olling, a season so successful for her teammates has been riddled by injury for her.

She was forced to redshirt the entire indoor season with a stress fracture in her foot. Despite early hopes she’d return for outdoor competition, she and Guthrie decided she’d sit out the entire season.

“It’s different having to redshirt,” Olling said. “I’ve been injured all year, and I’m sure I won’t be 100 percent for cross country either, but it’s a good chance for me to better myself (and) to find my limits. It’s not just physically, but mentally as well.”

Guthrie hopes Olling will begin training legitimately by cross country season in the fall, saying there are three levels of recovery after an injury: running, training, and competing. 

She is currently healthy enough to run, but it will be a long time before she can begin training heavily, Guthrie said.

“They say you lose training five times faster than you gain it,” he said. “Whether she comes back as strong as she was is up to how hard she trains when she’s healthy.”

Guthrie added the constant competition – cross country, indoor season, outdoor season – makes being a distance runner harder to sustain compared to throwers or sprinters, let alone athletes from other sports.

While the team was strong all year and the two healthy thirds of the trio had stellar seasons, Schubert said she wished her teammate could have been healthy in what will be Schubert’s final season.

“It’s always a bonus – both personally and as a team – to have everyone at full strength,” she said.

Schubert added while it’s still up to the athletes themselves at the meets, it hurts to lose someone to run beside in practices.

“People don’t realize how important it is to have someone you’re used to running at your side to push you in training,” she said. “But at meets, your mind isn’t on anything but staying in front of everyone else.”

However, Schubert still has her own outdoor season to focus on. She has high hopes for her final months of college athletics, seeking to top her personal best in the 10k (34:48) and get a chance to participate in the regionals in Kentucky this May. To do so, she’ll need to be ranked in the top 48 in the region.

As a junior, O’Neil still has the chance to run with Olling next year, as opposed to Schubert. O’Neil said she’s grateful for that chance.

“In a way, it’s good she’s sitting,” O’Neil said. “Injuries are never fun, but it’s part of being an athlete. It’s good that she’s not pushing herself to the point of hurting her senior season.”

O’Neil pointed out Olling is still helpful during practices, running when she can and helping the team out whenever. 

Though her season has been successful and she is proud to own the school record in the mile, O’Neil said her finish at the MAC Championships in February was a disappointing end to her indoor season, finishing the mile in 4:55.28 for eighth place.

“Winter hits, everyone gets a cold and our times go down,” she said. “I hope to end my outdoor season on a higher note, when the weather doesn’t give us an excuse.”

Though Olling will have to wait until December to see where she stacks up against opposition, Schubert and O’Neil will kick off their outdoor season this weekend in Virginia at the Colonial Relays.

“We’re chasing the weather, going to where it’s warm and beautiful,” Guthrie said, “They can’t forget that this is a business trip. We’ll have fun, relax when it’s appropriate, but we can’t forget that we have a job to do.”