The Internet Home of Track & Field

Nike Indoor Nationals
March 13-15, 2009 - Reggie Lewis Center, Boston MA

Preview: Laura Roesler in the 800


Success by Trials
Like Jordan Hasay, North Dakota's Laura Roesler is a high-schooler building on great results from the Olympic Trials ... but that's only part of her story

by SteveU
Photos by John Nepolitan (Trials), Richard Svaleson (training)

If you’re an average track fan, noting the presence of Fargo (N.D.) South junior Laura Roesler this weekend in the 800 at Nike Indoor Nationals, you might be thinking, Wait, didn’t she run at the Olympic Trials last summer?  Didn’t she do pretty well?

You can be forgiven (again, if you’re an “average” fan) if you don’t remember exactly what happened there.  That’s probably because the predominant image in your mind of high school runners at the Olympic Trials in 2008, especially if you’re a follower of the distances, is of a California girl with long blonde hair that chewed up the national TV airwaves while running a high school record 4:14.50 to make the finals in her event, the 1500 meters. 

And if it’s not Jordan Hasay that immediately comes to mind, and/or you’re a sprint fan, then it’s the Floridian footballer Jeff Demps that you recall – Demps, who also ran a HSR, with a 10.01 100 that made the semifinals.

You have to think back earlier to earlier that week, before Hasay, before Demps.  It was the women’s 800 and, interestingly, there was definitely a prep athlete considered by the pundits to be a hopeful for the finals in that event, but it wasn’t Roesler.  Easton PA sr Chanelle Price had trained and competed at the highest level for two years, and had already proven she belonged among the national elite with the collegiate and pro women.

But on that first day of the Trials, Price had an off day and didn’t advance, and it was this North Dakota runner in a pink shirt who was making it to the semifinals, this girl that only the serious fans had heard of – and who even those serious fans hadn’t wrapped their cognitive minds around because of her mind-boggling progression in the previous month of 2:05.68, 2:04.96, then 2:03.08 – all at smaller meets against varied competition.  Laura Roesler, a 16-year-old soph as the Trials began, wasn’t yet on the national radar for most.  But she also wasn’t carrying the pressure that Price was, and she had honed her finishing speed and pacing skills perfectly to run the rounds.  Stunned fans watched as she maneuvered through the pack almost with perfection and finished fourth in 2:04.03, making the 800 semis and suddenly drawing great interest from everyone from the New York Times to Running Times.

While Roesler would finish 8th in the 800 semi a day later, with a 2:06.82, she had made a strong impression, even beyond the world of the hardcore track fans.  Her performances got plenty of media attention among those interested in the young phenoms at the Trials, before the exploits of Demps and Hasay took over.

“Laura found a new appreciation for track and field from her experience at the Trials,” said her coach, Lisa Svaleson, who is an exercise physiologist and less than 10 years removed from her own days as a star prep trackster at Fargo South.  “She has a strong passion for the sport.  She entered the meets this summer as an underdog and had really flown under the radar before the summer of 2008, nationally.  Laura does a great job training and is always seeking to gain more knowledge about training.  As a coach and exercise physiologist, it is fun to have an athlete ask what energy system we are training, etc.”

Of course the serious fans, and those in North Dakota and the Northern Plains in general, had long known of this amazing athlete from Fargo.  She was performing well and eventually winning XC meets in the fall during middle school (one of the states where middle schoolers can run with high schoolers), but then running mostly sprints in the spring.  While she obviously had enough endurance that she could have focused on the 800 on up, she had this uncanny speed, too.  In the spring of her 8th grade year, not only did she repeat her Class A state title at 400 meters, but added the 100, 200, and 800 as well.  Then, the next fall, as a freshman, she won her first state XC title. 

Now just how many athletes have won state XC and 100 meter titles?  While there may be no such “official” records kept, the list has to be very, very short.  Yes, it’s not California, Texas or New York, but times like 11.90w (100) and 24.30w (200) are very competitive.  So is a 14:36 for 4K, which was what Laura won the 2007 Class A North Dakota title in as a soph, just 12 seconds slower than Foot Locker Finalist Lindsay Anderson in Class B.

Of course, the natural marriage of Laura’s talents is the 800, the perfect blend of speed and endurance, fast twitch muscles and slow-twitch muscles.  As a freshman in 2007, Laura improved to 2:07.83 at a meet in Fargo, and was 2nd at Golden West in 2:08.21

Then last May, she lowered her 800 to 2:05.68, then quadrupled at state for the 3rd straight time.  But it was after that when the fireworks really began:  2:04.96 at the Dakota Elite meet attracted plenty of attention the final weekend of May.  Then in a masterful coaching move, Coach Svaleson took her down to the Jim Bush USATF meet in California, part of a trip with other Team NoDak athletes and designed to get her some real competition, but in a low-pressure environment.  In a field that included a handful of other 2:00-2:05 types, Laura chopped almost two more seconds off her time, a huge leap given how fast she already was.  The 2:03.08 made her #8 all-time US.

That was what Laura Roesler took to Eugene.  And that, plus her Trials success, is what she brings here to Boston, her first track meet since June.  Like Hasay, Roesler is running her first indoor national meet, her first race of the year, and her first race on a banked track – but the junior is not a complete stranger to indoor track.  Throughout her career, she has competed in the short indoor circuit in North Dakota and somewhat beyond, but it is a circuit that takes place in late March and early April, like some other Upper Midwest and Northern Plains states.

She’ll be competing in what could be one of the premier events in the sport by the time the year is done, with four athletes – including herself – who have broken 2:06 returning to compete.  But Roesler is the only one of those who will toe the line in Boston for the 800.  Jillian Smith NJ will be running relays only, Becca Addison MI elected to skip indoor nationals, and Phyllis Francis NY is competing at NSIC.  Still the NIN girls 800 should be a fine battle, with US#1 Stephanie Brown IL (2:08.41) likely to provide the chief competition.

So Roesler’s story here would seem simple enough: An outstanding, exceptionally versatile athlete who finished a great 2008 at the Olympic Trials and is making her 2009 debut at NIN … right?  And Coach Svaleson says the training has been going well, despite a Fargo winter that just won’t quit and limited access to indoor training.

“She began some strength training and easy runs in late December,” she says.  “Throughout January and Feburary, she participated in a speed/strength camp that really focused on speed development, plyometrics, and strength training, in addition to some easy mileage and tempos.  We incorporated intervals into her training in recent weeks.”

Well, no, there’s a little more to the story, another chapter, another reason that makes Roesler’s presence here significant.  Few ultra successful young athletes can have all those early triumphs – and the striving for even more triumphs, with the attendant pressures and expectations – without a few bumps in the road, where at some point there’s a breakdown or burnout in the mental or the physical.  Most coaches, athletes and their families are taught to balance things, to steel themselves to deal with everything.  But that doesn’t mean that balance comes easily or that there aren’t unexpected challenges that arise that couldn’t have been prepared for.

For Roesler, those bumps in the road came last fall.  National XC fans noticed she was absent from the podium at most of the major meets and had to go down the list to find her name.  Most North Dakota fans knew she was free from serious injury or illness, but watched her drop from the leaders unexpectedly, as she did at the state meet.

While Coach Svaleson did not want to dig deep into the specific details of what her pupil was going through, the bottom line was that it was time for some serious heart-to-heart and a break from it all for awhile. 

“She was in great shape physically, but needed to find herself mentally and emotionally,” she said.  “We discussed the challenges of becoming a nationally known runner.  I think coaches sometimes end up more as a psychologist than a coach!”

To help her recharge, the coach put the kibosh on running for Roesler after XC – for several weeks.  “I waited until she was begging me to train again before we started any workouts.  She had kind of lost her passion for running … but it's back!”

Coach Svaleson believes the athlete emerging now, as spring looms around the corner, is better for having dealt with a tough autumn.  With two full track seasons left in her prep career, there’s a lot ahead.  She’s just three seconds away from Kim Gallagher’s national outdoor record.  She could have 21 state outdoor individual titles by the time she’s done, and there’s just no way that can’t be some kind of record.

But a balanced approach it must be for Laura Roesler 2.0, and it all begins with modest expectations at NIN.

“Laura is excited to travel to Boston and compete against some great prep athletes,” Coach Svaleson says.  “We are approaching this meet as a fun indoor experience to dip her toes in the competitive water for 2009.  June is our primary focus, but Laura is a competitive young lady and she has done a great job preparing for this weekend.

“A big focus for us this year is to keep it fun for her and to stay grounded mentally and not put pressure on herself.”