Craig Alicia Nelson knows success.
Nelson, 19, was the Division 4A 2008 state champion in cross country and broke the Moffat County High School record for the mile in May 2009.
Running for perennial powerhouse Adams State College, the 2009 MCHS graduate found herself in an unfamiliar place.
Nelson opened the year behind teammate Kristen McGlynn for most of the year.
But, true to form, Nelson didn’t stay there for long.
Running at the Nov. 20 Division II national cross country meet in Evansville, Ind., Nelson trailed her teammate McGlynn.
“I was able to pass her with about 600 or 800 meters left,” Nelson said. “We all knew what our job was, and we were so close that passing a teammate didn’t matter. It’s like ‘If you can’t come with me, I have to go.’ And we all know that.”
Behind the stellar running of ninth-place Nelson, the Grizzlies were able to claim their seventh cross-country title in a row, and Nelson, who finished ninth, was named her conference’s freshman of the year.
As for the rest of her college career, Nelson said she isn’t sure what the future holds.
“Going into this year, my goal was to be in the top 15 or 20,” she said. “We had lost a lot of people going into this year, so we weren’t sure that we were going to be able to repeat. But, we kept the streak going.”
Like the Moffat County girls cross country team, Nelson said the Grizzlies took their opponents by surprise.
Running at the Nov. 7 regional meet in Wayne, Neb., Nelson and her teammates set out to prove they were better than their ranking indicatedt
“As a team, it was good because we got back at people who didn’t believe in us,” she said. “We went in ranked fourth, and we wanted to show everyone we were better than that.”
And that they did.
The team finished first, and Nelson again was a top-10 finisher.
“At that point in the season, it was ‘Do or lose,’” she said. “The course wasn’t easy, but everyone was feeling the same pain.”
Although she was the fastest freshman in Division II, Nelson said she was happy for the heightened competition.
“It definitely helps to run with girls who are better than you,” she said. “It makes me better. The girl who won nationals is a three-time champion, so I can’t wait to run against her (in track).”
Nelson said she chose Adams State not only for the successful running program, but because of the feel of the campus.
“It’s still homey,” she said. “It’s small. The biggest change has been living on my own without my parents around.”
Her running schedule also has been a transition, Nelson said.
“In high school, everyone runs just to run,” she said. “In college, everyone who runs wants to be there and it becomes a really big part of your life. Most days it’s run, eat, sleep, do homework, run.”
Not unlike her alma mater, Nelson said this year’s Adams State team was unsure of how it would finish.
“Everyone is fighting for a spot,” she said. “As the year went on, we really came together as a team. We started trusting each other. It’s not like high school, where you run with the kids you grew up with.”
Nelson eventually would like to branch into the field of art therapy.
“Right now, I have a major in art, and a minor in psychology,” she said.
With a time intensive major like art, Nelson said her biggest struggle thus far has been balancing her coursework and running schedules.
“It’s a matter of finding time to get the work done,” she said. “But, I managed to get straight A’s this past semester, so it’s going alright.”
After a few months, she got into a rhythm, Nelson said.
“When I first left, I was a little scared,” she said. “It took a while to adapt, but I’m having a good time, I’ve met some nice people.”
But, Nelson doesn’t hesitate to say what she misses the most about Craig.
“My family,” she said, “and the food.”