The NCAA Outdoor Track and Field Championships are taking place this week in Eugene, Ore., and one Tyler native is looking toward the finish line in her final collegiate race.
Mia Behm will be running long distance for the University of Texas in the 5,000 meters at 8:15 p.m. today.
The 2008 Bishop Gorman graduate never intended to come close to a track but she happened upon the sport in high school.
"In the beginning, I didn't want to run at all. I was playing soccer. It went all right but the track people wanted more people on the team, so a couple of the girls cornered me and were like, ‘You really need to be on the team,'" Behm said. "I had every intention of going to a practice to make them happy and not going back. I went and felt pressured to keep going but it went so well that I decided I should just keep running."
Behm ran for the duration of high school, garnering awards such as state championships in the 1,600 and 3,200 meters in 2007 and 2008. When the time came to pick colleges, Behm received offers from several schools but decided Texas was the right place for her.
"When I came on my visit, I really liked my coach, Stephen Sisson, and liked the girls on the team," Behm said. "I wasn't really concerned with how elite the program was. I just wanted to make sure it was a good fit because if I was going to make an investment in running, it's a big commitment. I could just see myself having a lot of fun at Texas, and that was the case, so I'm really happy with my decision."
Behm said her freshman year was rough and it wasn't until her coach sat her down for a talk when she understood how to improve and reach the next level.
"I took it pretty lightly coming into college but my coach was like, if you really want to be good at running, you have to make running part of your whole life," Behm said. "You can't just be a runner when you come to practice. I decided he was right and that I did want a successful running career."
She improved during her sophomore season and received an at-large bid to the NCAA Championships. However, an obstacle during her junior year set her back to the point that Behm had to redshirt the end of her junior year and entire senior year.
"My junior year during indoor (season), I had a stress fracture (on my foot) that I just ran on until the end of indoor. I redshirted outdoor season my junior year to try and get healed up," Behm said. "I thought everything had healed up but I came back for cross country in the fall of my senior year, which was last year. At our regional race, it turns out my stress fracture had never healed and at some point during the race, it broke all the way through."
Behm had broken her fibula running down her right ankle but said she didn't even feel it at first.
"I didn't know it broke (during the race) because when you're running, your adrenaline is pumping and you don't even realize it," Behm said. "But whenever the race was over, I was in excruciating pain. I was crying and so upset."
Behm said the recovery process was difficult.
"I had to do a lot of aqua jogging, which is where you get in the pool and you do a running motion which, let me tell you, is not my favorite thing in the world. I had to do a lot of biking," Behm said. "When I could finally start running, it was like one lap every other day around the track. That's nothing coming from someone who ran 70 miles a week, so it was a very long process."
The 2013 outdoor track season marked the first time in three years that Behm was able to compete. She said she didn't really expect much after her indoor season.
"I had a really rough indoor season, which was hard for me. It got to the point where I was like, ‘Why am I doing this?' I was so much better before my injury," Behm said. "It was very frustrating and it was hard to go through that and want to still keep competing."
Mental toughness and moral support from her family got her through it.
"I had a lot of tearful phone calls with my dad (after the injury) and a lot of me complaining, but they always supported me. They're probably more into my running than I am. They love to come to meets," Behm said. "My dad is coming to nationals. My mom loves to tell random strangers about how I do at meets, which is embarrassing but pretty funny at the same time. They are super supportive."
Behm worked her way into the NCAA Championships in her specialty, the 5,000 meters. She said although she is excited to be competing at nationals, she's just happy to achieve the same level of success she had before her injury.
"To get back to how I used to feel racing and performing … is such a huge relief and an incredible thing to achieve after being out for what seemed like forever," Behm said. "My mindset is this is my last race as a collegiate runner and I don't want to limit myself in any way. I'm really optimistic and hopeful that I'll do the best I can do."