When you plug the name “Heather Dorniden” into a search engine, you’re flooded with results about courage and determination. The 28-year-old runner, now Heather Kampf, is the most-decorated runner to emerge from the University of Minnesota women’s track and field program and she has since won two national championships and made a world championship team. Still, it is a 2008 race and the YouTube video that documents it that has preceded her and kept people buzzing (http://tinyurl.com/o4wd8zf).
The race happened at the Big Ten Indoor Championships held at the university’s fieldhouse her junior year. The gun fired, and four runners including Kampf took off for the three-lap, 600-meter race. Kampf ran comfortably in the second position before making a move to the inside lane with 200 meters to go.
Without warning, her feet got tangled with another runner, sending her into a face-first dive. Flattened out, she rose in a split second and began chasing her competitors, who were well into completing the final lap. Loping down the backstretch, Kampf caught third place, then second, and at the line, clips first to win the heat. The announcers and crowd behind them are thrown into a roaring frenzy.
There’s a reason why one version of this race video has nearly 12 million views. Kampf’s dramatic fall and subsequent comeback make for an inspiring scene that even people who aren’t fans of track and field can appreciate.
Now running professionally for Team USA Minnesota and sponsored by ASICS, the Minnesota native brings that same fortitude to the world stage with her sights on making the 2016 U.S. Olympic team. In a recent interview, Kampf shared her thoughts on her reputation as “Queen of the Road Mile,” her Olympic dreams, and the thrill of competing in front of a hometown crowd.
On her earliest running memories
I was always athletic and loved to play outside and climb trees and get dirty. For whatever reason, I had an air of feminism about me where I had to beat the boys, and it was my expectation to continue to do that.
On developing a passion
It was the competitiveness and the freedom of movement — seeing how fast you can go and pushing yourself to the limit — not to think, just to run. I always had this ‘sky’s the limit’ mentality.
On remaining in the Twin Cities
The initial draw for me was the fact that I could stay close to family, which was also a big reason why I went to the University of Minnesota. Having grown up in this community and realizing how incredibly supportive and active and awesome the Twin Cities are, it’s just so much fun for me to call this my place.
On running through winters
I’ve had a really healthy career considering the fact that I’ve battled every element we get here. I think that following the seasons and that cyclical pattern is good for your body and definitely helps me stay a balanced athlete. It’s great to get strong and have a base, but you don’t need to be sharp in January, you want to be sharp in June.
On training with her husband Ben, also a product of the Gopher track and field program
Usually we run together every long run, at least a couple easy runs per week, and he also comes to a lot of my workouts. Even when I’m wheezing between rests, he can still crack a joke and make light of things. He’s a really positive encouraged and not there for any alternative motive other than to help me through my workouts.
On that 600-meter race at the 2008 Big Ten Indoor Championships
If there’s anything that’s happened in my career that’s followed me and given me a name people recognize, that’s it. Even now watching it I’m just a little bit shocked. I don’t remember ever losing my feet. I thought I stumbled, put my hands down, and got back up and kept running. When I saw the gap that formed, I thought, ‘How did they get that far ahead of me?’ When my dad pulled the video camera out and showed it to me, I was dumbstruck. I had no clue it had happened that way.
On what that race taught her
I think it’s all about having a positive vision of what you want to accomplish when you start the race in order to minimize all those things that can get in your way — to view those things as opportunities for something amazing to happen. When you get to rise above and do more than you thought you could, it really sticks with you.
On running as a metaphor
That idea of running through the line is big — every time you finish a repeat, a workout, a race or are aiming for anything in your life — to finish it and follow through. This isn’t a linear path; it’s not all going to be easy. There are definitely those times where you get stuck for a little bit and have periods of seeing no improvement on paper, but you know you’re getting stronger.
On being dubbed “The Queen of the Road Mile”
My first experience running a road mile was the TC 1 mile my first year as a professional. I finished, and the first thing I thought was ‘it’s over already?’ It goes by so fast and is so different from knowing exactly where you are on the track all the time. I think being lost is better for me because it takes me back to that place where I don’t really know what I’m doing, I’m just racing. If it comes down to that pure, childlike competitiveness of, OK, I’m going to stick with these guys as long as I can … when I get that ‘it’ feeling — that gut instinct — then I go.
On running in front of a hometown crowd at the TC 1 Mile
I literally can’t run a step without hearing someone say my name, and that is so fun because you feel like ‘this is my race already.’ It’s so incredible. There’s just something special about racing at home that is so close to my heart.
On the Olympic dream
After my first Olympic trials when I made it through the semifinals in 2008 as a junior, I couldn’t wait to have the opportunity to come back and prepare accordingly. Last time around, making the final was really incredible. As an athlete, you have to believe that if you’re in the race, you have a chance to win it or finish second or third to make the team because you never know what can happen on any given day, even if on paper other people look like the favorites. Having that unyielding optimism to believe that it could be you is really cool.
Mackenzie Lobby Havey is a freelance writer. She lives in Minneapolis.