Hannah Kiser started her running career at age 11 with one goal in sight: to be better than her dad.
“The first time I ever ran it was like 90 degrees,” Kiser said. “It was super hot and I was super bad because it was the first time I’d ever run, and I was kind of chubbier when I was younger and so I remember … I got back and most people would be like ‘I hated that, I’m never doing that again.’ And I was like ‘Oh my god, I was so bad. I want to get better. I don’t want to suck. I want to be better than my dad.'”
Since then Kiser has gone on to be one of the most accomplished runners in recent Idaho history, winning the WAC four years in a row in cross country and racking up numerous accolades in both indoor and outdoor track. In the 2013 outdoor season, Kiser set a school and WAC record in the 5000m. Her time of 15:44.06 beat the 1982 Idaho school record by nearly 26 seconds and broke the WAC record by 17 seconds. This year she was named the WAC women’s cross country athlete of the year for the second consecutive year.
Despite her obvious success, Kiser wasn’t a top recruit coming out of high school and said she had no idea what she was capable of. It wasn’t until she received a Facebook message, with an offer for a full ride scholarship from Idaho coach Wayne Phipps in May of her senior year. She had originally planned to attend Western Washington University, but Phipps’ Facebook message — which she thought was a joke at first — changed her plans.
“We always joke and I tell him, ‘You probably thought it was someone else when you Facebook messaged me but you’re too nice so you didn’t want to be like — whoops, you’re the wrong person,'” Kiser said.
Kiser said she didn’t think Phipps had really seen her run, but for some reason he believed in her — a trait Kiser said makes Phipps a great coach.
“He kind of just has this instinct about people because a lot of Idaho’s team are people that aren’t like the very best in the country but they have a lot of talent that is kind of untapped and so he kind of has this special way of finding those people and then making them really good,” Kiser said
Kiser said Phipps gives 110 percent all the time, which drives his athletes to do the same and trust the program. She attributed the four consecutive WAC cross country titles to Phipps’ belief they could do it.
“He finds diamonds in the rough, but he is also a diamond,” Kiser said. “We’re kind of a small school … but the kinds of kids that he gets and the kinds of athletes he makes out of them is really amazing. We surprised ourselves in the beginning and then after that it was something we realized we could do all four years.”
Kiser’s new quest was to take advantage of the opportunity and give back to the university by working as hard as she could. As it turned out, Phipps’ intuition paid off.
“I was so thankful to have a full ride obviously, that was amazing,” Kiser said. “So I was like I need to work really hard to pay back the school and Phipps for seeing something in me. But I wasn’t expecting to really ever be an All-American or anything like that. Every year I continue to surprise myself about how much better I had gotten. I’m so happy that Phipps saw something in me because obviously it was a lot better than I had thought that I could be.”
In addition to her success as a runner, Kiser has challenged herself in the classroom. She graduated in December with a degree in biochemistry. In order to maintain eligibility, Kiser is still taking classes as an undergraduate but plans to attend the UI College of Graduate Studies in Chemistry in the fall. She has one remaining indoor and outdoor track season. Once she’s exhausted her eligibility, Kiser plans to stick around to finish her graduate degree and continue to train with Phipps in preparation for the 2016 Olympic trials.
Kiser said her life mostly consists of running and schoolwork.
“I’m pretty happy just working on those two things,” Kiser said. “Running is like the one thing in life I love more than anything so I spend a lot of time running and making sure that I’m eating well and resting and sleeping and all that stuff. I really have a passion for school. I enjoy it a lot. I like to study, that’s something that sounds really weird, but I like to learn so it’s not really a chore for me.”
Despite her success, it hasn’t always been an easy run for Kiser. From pinched tendons to respiratory infections to knee injuries, she’s faced her fair share of adversity. She’s currently battling a foot injury that requires her to get a cortisone shot every few months in order to manage the pain. The surgery to repair her broken sesamoid bone would take three months to recover from, and Kiser said she just doesn’t want to take that much time off right now.
I’m not where I was last year at all and every year I’ve been here it’s always been getting better … and now it’s kind of a step back,” Kiser said. “Obviously when you’re away from it for so long and it’s something that you love so much you kind of wonder … is it stupid of me to continue or do I just need to stick it out? Knowing when to quit and when to keep going is like the hardest thing, but the fact that I missed it and it really hurt me so much to be away from it really confirmed that that’s really what I have to do. There’s no choice. I like to think that I have free will but I don’t. I have to run. I’m not going to be happy unless I do it.”
Kiser said it was that first run at age 11 when she realized she was different than other people who likely would have never had the desire to run again.
“There’s something in me that’s a little bit different than someone who would rather do something else,” Kiser said. “It’s not really a choice. It’s something that’s internal that you discover. You surprise yourself.”
Kaitlyn Krasselt can be reached at email@example.com