Christy Cazzola: A Mom with a Dream
Christy Cazzola is one of the most distinguished and decorated NCAA Division III track and field athlete in history. She graduated last spring from the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh with 17 national championship titles. She was a standout high school track athlete from the start: winning a state championship in the 800m as a freshman and then a cross-country state championship as a senior. When I first read about Christy what inspired me the most was her dedication and commitment to pursuing her dreams
What some people might not know about Christy is that she took a very non-traditional path to her current track successes. She decided as a senior in high school that she wasn’t going to go to college right away and take a scholarship to run. She decided to wait and take some time in the real world first to find out who she was and what she wanted to be. And that is just the beginning of this amazing women’s story: During that time Christy worked different jobs and in the process met her husband Shuma. Three years after her high school graduation she had her son Noah in 2006. One and a half years later she decided to go back to school. It was that year that she tried out for the Oshkosh cross-country team and ended up helping her team get to the 2008 Cross-Country National Championship race.
KMet: Christy, tell me looking back on that first year of college and training for cross-country, how did you juggle all of that: 1 1/5 year old, college classes, training schedule, husband, working full-time? I think of the typical college student and you seem far from that…what was it like?
CC: It wasn’t always easy, but I was excited to learn and challenge myself to succeed in ways that I had not tried before.
The next interesting twist to her story: At the NCAA Div III cross-country meet – Christy knew that she was pregnant with her soon to be daughter, Kaya. When Kaya was born the next year, Christy took a break from running while continuing her education and then two years later was back at it: her second season of collegiate cross-country and later in the spring her first season of collegiate track.
KMet: Once you came back for your second season of running after having your second child what was it like being around teammates whose lives were very different from yours? Was it hard to relate to each other?
CC: I think I always stood out as different. I never let my teammates get away with making excuses. I was always honest about the process and the path that we were on. I wasn’t accepted by everyone, but I was respected and made lasting friendships with those who treated me as part of the team.
Over the next three years Christy claimed 16 national championship trophies. Her senior year she won three titles in indoor track (Mile, 3k, DMR) and three in outdoor track (800, 1500, 5k). Along with that she set 2 National Division III records in the 800 (2:03:45) and in the 1500m (4:14:20). After both the 2013 and 2014 collegiate track seasons, Christy qualified for the USA Championship. It was last spring where we met up with and spoke with Christy regarding her potential future with Oiselle.
KMet: Knowing your story one of the things that became very apparent to me was the fact that you must have a strong internal drive to set goals and get things done. What kept you motivated throughout your college career especially with the breaks that you had between kids? What motivated you along the way?
CC: My vision. I have a picture in my mind of what I want to achieve and I had to remind myself, in the very difficult moments of my career, that I have to always remember and focus on my dream and my vision. It is MY place in the world and that’s where I want to see myself.
KMet: If you were to give advice to a runner who is working full-time or going to school full-time and who also wants to train at this next level what would you tell them?
CC: The best thing you can do is prioritize and plan everything out. In order to do that communication is key in connecting all the people involved in the process that allow you the time and places to achieve your goals.
KMet: You had to spend a lot of time building strength back up after each child, what specific things help you get back in running shape and helped strengthen your core?
CC: I think being patient and listening to your body is most important in getting back into shape after giving birth. I had to take my own “baby steps” to get stronger and more fit. I would do wall sits or leg lifts while the baby is napping or while they are doing self-play. I remember strengthening my own back when placing my babies face down on their stomachs. All parents do this to challenge and strengthen babies, it’s also how they learn to roll over, so don’t be weirded out, those of you who are not mommys.
KMet: Did you have a role model that inspired you along the way? Someone specifically who inspired you?
CC: I have had several women inspire me and I have had so many mentors and role models that have helped me develop into the person I have become. My high school coaches, taught me to make goals. My college coaches showed me how to use dynamic social situations to create competitive environments and how to be political with my speech. Really, everyone in my community whether they accept me or not played a role in shaping me as an individual.
KMet: Now after graduating from Oshkosh in the spring and getting started with your professional running career, what does your typical day look like now?
CC: Right now I am just getting back into training. I have been swimming and lifting a lot with a basic running program. I usually get up at 5:30 to work out and then I do homework until I go to work in my graduate assistantship at the educational leadership office from 12-3. Then I go home to my children and we spend time together and prepare for the next day. That is what a normal day looks like, but as we know things tend to change, especially when training is dependent on weather here in Wisconsin.
KMet: Tell us what your fans can look forward to this spring? What races are you most looking forward to?
CC: I am excited to work hard and improve my times. I am still working and planning my schedule for Spring, but the goal, of course, is to make another appearance and place better than the last year at USA National Championships!