Throughout the spring one thing stood out to me while watching Marisa Howard race: guts and determination! The steeple chase in itself demands these qualities in its competitors but whenever Marisa steps to the line no matter what the distance she brings this determination. From childhood through college she has been setting records and pushing the envelope. We are especially excited to add her to our team not only because of her drive but because of the passion that she has for what Oiselle stands for! Here's how her story begins.
Hello all! My name is Marisa Howard (previously Vander Malle) and I am beyond excited to be joining the Oiselle Haute Volée team. My running story begins 23 years ago when I was still in my mother’s womb. I love telling this story because it shows where I get my strength and determination. When my mother was six months pregnant with me she was out gardening, tripped over a rock, twisted and broke her right leg in three places and also broke her left foot at the same time. To this day, she still has a metal rod in her right leg. My mom spent eight days in the hospital following urgent surgery while they worked on stopping premature labor. At the time, she was very sick and we both could have died. After being released, she spent six weeks in a wheelchair and her final brace was removed three days before I was born. My mother was never a big runner before this happened, but she can no longer run after these severe injuries. A little part of me always thinks of her as I lace up my shoes daily and so easily go for my runs.
Fast forward to elementary school and I found myself chasing after the school mile records. There were school records posted in the gymnasium for 3rd, 4th, and 5th grades. I was able to “break” the mile records in both 4th and 5th grades with times of 7:11 and 6:53 respectively. Entering high school, our track team had an intrasquad meet with six different events to see if there is any hidden talent. When it came time for the 800m, I asked an experienced runner what a good time would be and she said anywhere under or near 3:00 minutes would be good. I ran my first 800m somewhere near 2:30 and my future was set. Senior year came around and my goal was to “break” my school and Tri-City area record for the 3200m. When the Washington State championship came, my coach gave me my paces and said, “you run your pace, if anyone else beats you, they deserve to win.” I managed to break the all Tri-City Area record, shattered the Pasco High School record and finished in 2nd place.
My college years have been filled with highs and lows, something that most runners have to endure. Despite a couple of injuries, I wouldn’t let the injuries “get to me” as I promptly got to work in the pool and on the bike. I would see little glimpses of success here and there, which kept the fire burning within me.
Jumping ahead to my red shirt junior year of college I found myself coming off my first national experience, recently married and now with a new coaching staff in place at Boise State. Coach Ihmels came in and set the bar high. He asked me what my goals were and I said, “to be a First Team All-American in the steeplechase.” He then challenged me and said, “Why not top three?” Coach Ihmel’s is known for producing very good 10K runners. There was a running joke all year that if I didn’t get top three then I would have to switch to the 10K the following year. Despite another injury during indoor season, I persevered with training and competing well in races and found myself in the final heat at Nationals. Entering the last lap, I was in 6th place. In my head I was thinking, “I did it, I just have to finish and I’ll be First Team All-American!” But, after getting a feel for my legs I knew I had a lot left inside. During the final lap, I passed 4 other runners and sprinted towards the finish line, becoming the National Steeplechase Runner-up and running a 15 second PR at the same time.
After achieving this goal and this high of a placement, my standards for myself changed. However, winter-time rolled around and I started to have some pain in my upper thigh. I knew the feeling. Sure enough, I was diagnosed with a stress reaction at the end of January. I didn’t run a single step during the month of February. Cross-training is every runner’s least favorite thing to do, but I have learned to embrace it. Every lap I swam was focused on getting to the final and becoming a National Champion. My husband teased me and said that I just like to go into hibernation during the wintertime and come out ready to race in the spring.
And all the sudden it was the beginning of June and I found myself lining up against the best in the nation. While I came up short of my goal of being a national champion, I PR’d by six seconds in the final and became the 6th fastest NCAA Division I Steeplechaser of all time! That race was insanely fast and the 3rd, 4th, and 5th fastest times also happened to be in that final race as well. USA championships were held two weeks later and I was excited to get another crack at a PR. Things didn’t go as planned and I found myself falling face first into the water pit with three laps left. Knock me down eight times and I’ll get up nine! My college career has been filled with joys, tears, frustration and excitement, but it has also left me hungry to see what I can do in the years to come.
All of these trials and triumphs have only strengthened my faith in God who is the driving force of my life and running career. My favorite verse comes from Isaiah 40:31 “But those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.” I love that Oiselle means bird in French, I couldn’t feel more at home and believe that I belong with this company. I can’t wait to spread my wings this year: Heads up, Wings out.
From my mom’s broken bones 23 years ago, to working through injuries in college, to signing a professional contract and gearing up for the 2016 Olympic Year. I am insanely excited, motivated and eager to get back in shape and chase after my dreams with a company that I love and am passionate about. I am so thrilled about this community that I will have rooting for me and I feel blessed to be a part of the flock.