NCAA track, cross-country champion Tim Nelson begins new challenges in Army
February 4, 2014
FORT BENNING, Ga., (Feb. 5, 2014)
Editor�'s note: This is both parts of a two-part series on NCAA track and cross-country champion 2nd Lt. Tim Nelson.
For 2nd Lt. Tim Nelson, a student in the Armor Basic Officer Leadership Course, Jan. 18 was a big day in a storied career as a cross-country runner for the University of Wisconsin-Stout, but maybe not as big as the career he is embarking on now.
Nelson, a four-time Division III track and cross-county national champion, received the 2014 NCAA Today�'s Top 10 Award Jan. 18 during the NCAA convention in San Diego.
The award is given each year by the NCAA to honor 10 outstanding senior student-athletes of the preceding calendar year. The award is based on athletics ability and achievement, academic achievement, character, leadership and activities. The award includes all NCAA divisions and includes both male and female athletes.
He is only the fifth student in the history of the Wisconsin Athletic Association to win the award and the only Division III student athlete to win the award this year.
Nelson said receiving the award was a journey from where he first began his athletic career at Augusta High School in Augusta, Wis.
�"I was 17 when I first started running, so kind of late," he said. �"My mother was a runner and I excelled right off the bat. I said to myself �'why haven�'t I been doing this all along.�'
�"I played football in high school until I was a senior. I played all positions, because I played them all equally bad," he said jokingly.
But, whatever Nelson accomplished in high school, he said he was a team of one as the only runner on the team and attributed it to a good coaching staff and his personal work ethic.
�"One of the reasons I didn�'t run cross-country until I was a senior was because my high school didn�'t have a team, so as a senior I was the only one on the team … I wasn�'t really on the team until college," he said. �"I ran probably in the 17s. But, I didn�'t accept anything less than my best, which I think transfers over to the Army very well. I expected a lot of myself and I expected to improve everything I could realistically. I caught up to my peers rather quickly because I would do whatever it took, which I think my peers probably weren�'t."
Nelson said he really wasn�'t considered �"super good" when he was in high school; therefore he wasn�'t sought after by Division I schools but was recruited by Division III schools where he landed at the University of Wisconsin-Stout.
�"It�'s only an hour or so from home," he said. �"I remember when I was in high school saying I would never go to Stout, but I ended up falling in love with it when I toured it."
Nelson said he never really trained in high school, but when he got to Stout he was thrown into training and reaped the benefits quickly.
�"My body really accepted the training," he said. �"I excelled and got better really quick. My learning curve was very steep. In my freshmen year, I ran very well … a lot faster than I had ever run.
�"Then as a sophomore, I ran poorly and almost quit. It was some dark times in my athletic career. It was a life experience that you just have to go through in order to appreciate the good times. (Going through) It made me a better runner, but more so it made me a better teammate, a much better person and a much better leader. After that, I became a team captain for the next three years. It made me reevaluate how I looked at the sport and instead of caring only about how I did, I started to care about the whole team and for the benefit of the whole team."
Then, Nelson said the coaching staff and team captain were instrumental in helping him turn things around.
In his third year, Nelson�'s running career began to take off.
�"In my junior year, things turned around," he said. �"I made it to many national meets, was fortunate to run all over the country, got to meet a lot of cool people I competed against from all states."
Nelson said he attributes the turn around not only because his understanding of the sport and what it took to be good, but also to the support system he had in coaches and teammates.
�"My teammate, Peter Johnston, was really good that year," he said. �"He was one of the best runners in the nation. I was training with him every single day and he was training to become an All-American. I wasn�'t as good as he was, but I killed myself to keep up with him. I did everything he did and by the time the season rolled around, I was like �'I run with this guy every single day and he�'s really good, so if I am able to train with him every single day, although I may not beat him but can run stride for stride with him, then I should be able to run some pretty fast times,�' and that�'s what made the difference."
In addition to his teammates, Nelson said his coaches and assistants had a big impact on the turnaround, not just in the technical aspects of the sport, but in his psyche, as well.
�"I had two really, really good coaches, my head coach, Matt Schauf, and assistant coach, Mary Palmer," he said. �"They kept pushing me and even when I didn�'t believe in myself anymore, they still believed in me. In wasn�'t a matter of doing the work, it was just I didn�'t know how to push myself. "
Nelson said his one biggest attribute as a runner was his toughness.
�"I liked to think I was always the toughest one on the course and that�'s what I would tell myself every time before I raced," he said. �"Whether that was true or not, I don�'t know, but my coach helped reaffirm that by putting me through the most miserable workouts … so he made me believe that. I could tell he believed that, so when I saw he believed it, I believed it."
That work ethic and belief in his own toughness led Nelson to break the school indoor 5,000-meter record and the outdoor 10,000-meter record and to being an All-American in the outdoor 5,000- and 10,000-meter.
�"Tim made accomplishing goals a lifestyle," Shauf said. �"He has the foresight and understanding to know that in order to attain or become something he has never done, he must study and communicate with those who have. Tim then makes perfecting those traits and passing them on to his teammates a mission."
The turnaround in his running career and the records weren�'t the only changes Nelson went through in his junior year. It was also the year he made one of the biggest decisions of his young life -- he joined the Reserve Officer Training Corps and made the decision to serve his country.
�"My junior year was the year I decided to join the Army," he said. �"One day, I was econ (economics) tutoring a guy who was enlisted in the Army and he was just telling me how much he loved it and how fun it was and the camaraderie with the other Soldiers … I always respected people who served. If you serve the country, no matter what, you might not love it, you might not like it, but everyone who comes out of it learns something and is probably a better person than who they were before they went in.
�"So, I went into the ROTC office and sat down with the battalion commander and I said, �'Sir, I think this might be something I want to do.�' We talked about it and it wasn�'t a very hard decision. Once I decided, I wanted to go active duty."
In his senior year, Nelson juggled his studies, track and cross-country, ROTC and a limited social life, but turned in the best year of his athletic career.
�"I didn�'t go out and party much," he said. �"I didn�'t go do a lot of things most college students do because I just didn�'t have the time and I had other things I viewed as more important. I worked very hard my senior year and cut down to 12 credits a semester so I could balance everything."
But, even with the workload, Nelson said he still continued to run a lot.
�"I ran like 90, 95 miles a week," he said. �"I just viewed it as extremely important. I just didn�'t want to be a good runner, I wanted to be a great runner. I didn�'t want good to be the competitor of great and was not settling for nothing that absolutely being the best.
�"In my senior year, I was fortunate enough to win four national championships -- one in cross-country and three in track. I won the indoor and outdoor 5,000 (meter), the outdoor 10,000 (meter) and then I won cross-country."
Following his senior year, Nelson said he was offered two contracts to run professionally, but instead chose the Army.
�"It was one of the hardest decisions I have ever made," he said. �"They were both great opportunities, but I decided going in the Army and serving my country was more important than seeing how fast I could be. I thought about what was better for me serving my people as a whole.
�"I thought �'where could I make a bigger difference for the greater good in the whole scheme of things?�' I thought if I continued to run I would mostly be doing it just for myself. I didn�'t really go to college just to see how fast I could run, I did it to see how I could benefit others and make a difference in the world. In leading people and being an officer in the Army, I really wanted to look back on my life and say, �'I made a difference.�'"
NEW CAREER TRACK
In August 2013, Nelson was commissioned and Nov. 9, he entered active duty.
With Phase 1 of ABOLC complete, Nelson said he has had some growing pains, but is very impressed with his fellow lieutenants.
�"There are a really lot of good leaders in my troop," he said. �"There are a lot of guys who are well educated, well traveled and have a lot of experience to bring to the Army. I have just really been impressed because everybody just cares. People really want to be here and they want to be their best."
Nelson said his college years and what he learned running track and cross-country has really help him with the intangible aspects of the Army.
�"Aside from the fact I am in excellent physical shape and being part of a team striving for one common goal the whole team values … it�'s kind of the same in the Army," he said. �"Life becomes a whole lot more serious in the Army because it�'s not like you�'re training for the nationals, you�'re training to fight and win the nation�'s wars. The foundations of teamwork are really the same. You trust one another, you communicate, you respect one another, you all work hard and hold each other accountable … those lessons you learn, you might be learning them for a different thing, but they apply."
Nelson said the hard work and preparation he learned while running has come in handy.
�"Hard work and preparation are so key in the Army," he said. �"Every day is training you have to prepare for. You have to have your packing list set up, you have to have everything squared away and to make sure not only you are prepared, but so is your battle buddy. And with teamwork, I think we are finally starting to gel in my platoon with having to do a couple of days in the field and I think we will see more of that occur from solving field problems and more actual missions."
Following graduation from ABOLC, Nelson said he is scheduled to be assigned to the 1st Squadron, 4th Cavalry Regiment, at Fort Riley, Kan., to be a Scout platoon leader.
Once Nelson is finished with his training, he said he would like to begin competitive running again in the Army.
�"I�'d like to make some All-Army teams once I get to my first unit and maybe the Army Ten-Miler team," he said. �"I�'d like to recommit to a running schedule once I get to Fort Riley."
Right now, Nelson said he is committed to being the best Soldier and leader he can be in the Army.
�"I want to be a Soldier first," he said, �"not an athlete. �"I think that is a better way to serve. But, I�'d like to run the Ten-Miler … that way I can do both … I can be a leader, I can be a Solder and what better way to be an example of taking care of your body and personal fitness, while doing something I enjoy."
As with everything Nelson has accomplished as a runner, he said he has the same attitude about being an officer and a platoon leader.
�"Right now, I am focused on being the best platoon leader I can possibly be," he said. �"I want to be the best in the platoon leader in the Army so I can have a high functioning platoon so they are able to do anything the Army asks them to do. I want to be one of those officers who care about Soldiers and the mission.
�"I joined combat arms so I could become a leader. I don�'t know if there is a better place for a 24-year-old male, or female, to get leadership experience than in the Army and combat arms. When I finally leave the Army, I want to be a disciplined, organized leader who is capable of going out and leading any group of people toward a common goal. Everyone I talk to, whether is be someone who had a career, or someone who did four years and got out, they came away with valuable lessons learned and valuable skills they didn�'t have before … everyone comes out a stronger person."