Running for a national bid, Eckard comes into her own

Meagan Morrison

While most students are counting down class periods and planning summer trips, Missouri Southern distance runner Kara Eckard is training to become an All-American before summer break.

Eckard, a junior, runs three miles in the morning and seven in the afternoon to train for her 3,000-meter run, as well as the 3,000-meter steeplechase.

“I have never been to outdoor nationals before,” Eckard said. “This year, I want to be in the top eight and become an All-American.”

Eckard started track and field in junior high in her hometown of Warrensburg, Mo.

“Everyone ran track,” Eckard said. “It was the cool thing to do and I really got along with the distance runners.”

She joined her high school’s cross country team as a sophomore and won her first meet, which just so happened to be the state championship.

Eckard was also a three-time all-state runner in cross-country and track and field during high school.

“She has really come into her own,” said Patty Vavra, women’s track and field head coach. “She is a gifted, talented, mature athlete. She is highly motivated.”

Her freshman year at Southern, Eckard placed 16th in the MIAA Cross Country Championships and 37th in the Division II South Central Regional. She also clocked her season best for the 5k with a time of 19:03 and the mile with a time of 5:19 during the indoor season.

“I’m not sure if I like cross country better or track and field,” Eckard said. “They are so different.

“I love both of them. Cross country you don’t have to stand around and wait for every event, you just get it over with, but I still love track and field. Comparing them is like comparing apples and oranges.”

During her sophomore year, she was 13th in the MIAA Cross Country Championships.

She also competed in the mile run, the distance medley relay, 1,500-meter run, 2,000-meter run, and the 3,000-meter steeplechase during the indoor track and field season.

“I sucked my first two years here,” Eckard said. “It took two years for my light bulb to come on and realize what I needed to do. So far, I’ve had a good year this year.”

This year, Eckard placed 17th in the Southern Stampede, 7th in the MIAA Cross Country Championships and 7th in the Division II South Central Regional.

In the indoor season, Eckard placed 3rd in the one-mile run at the 2008 MIAA Indoor Track and Field Championships.

“She is beginning to do the little things that it takes to win,” Vavra said.

“She expects to do well and that makes all the difference. She is also training extremely well.”

She also won the 3,000-meter steeplechase in the first outdoor meet this season at the Florida State Snowbird Invitational.

It was said that Eckard had broken the school record in the steeplechase, beating the previous record set by Jen Noelkn in 2004. But later it was announced that Eckard’s time of 11:08.8 did not beat Noelkn’s of 11:08.4.

“I felt great until I realized I actually didn’t get the record,” Eckard said. “I thought I creamed it, but it [the record] will be gone after the Arkansas meet.”

Eckard, a graphics art major, has been dating junior distance runner Dustin Dixon for more than two years.

“He helps me more than I help him,” Eckard said.”I get nervous and he always says the right things to calm me down. He is always there to say it’s OK.”

Eckard was also there for Dixon when he broke his leg during the 2007 Division II Cross Country Nationals.

“I helped him a lot when he broke his leg,” Eckard said. “I knew the minute it happened. I jumped the barbed wire fence by the softball field and ran the rest of the race with him.”

Eckard has four major goals for the 2008 outdoor track and field season.

“I want to finally break the record in the steeplechase,” Eckard said. “I also want to run an automatic, win conference and be an All-American.”