Former South Whidbey Star Wins National Title at USATF Junior Olympics

Updated: Sep 28, 2021

Swegler-Richmond showcases talents in Steeplechase at the biggest stage

Kaia Swegler-Richmond (4364) with other competitors from the Steeplechase field at the USATF Junior Olympics in Jacksonville, Florida. Photo courtesy of Karen Swegler.

The Steeplechase is no stranger to Kaia Swegler-Richmond.

Her high school coach Doug Fulton constructed a barrier at South Whidbey for those who wanted to try the event, and it's become popular among the athletes at school over the last few seasons, particularly for Swegler-Richmond.

“It’s really light, so you can’t push off it, but it’s helped with the mental aspect of jumping over something in case you kick it," said Swegler-Richmond. “I haven’t practiced or raced the steeple a ton, but the times I have done it, they've been great learning experiences,"

Despite the few opportunities she's had to race, the three-time top 16 finisher at the 1A state cross country meet has become one of the premier steeplechasers in the Pacific Northwest over the last two seasons.

She's even landed a scholarship to run for head coach cross country and track coach Matt Biesel and the Concordia Bulldogs in Seward, Nebraska.

“Kaia’s very committed to doing the right things as far as her lifestyle and nutrition,” said Biesel. “But as a competitor, she’s very smart and is able to process a race before it comes and understands what she needs to do to take care of business.”

This past Sunday, Swegler-Richmond traveled to Jacksonville, Florida, to showcase her racing talents at the USATF National Junior Olympic Championships, only to come away with the greatest win of her young running career, taking the 2,000-meter steeplechase title in an 11 second PR of 7:26.14.

“I wanted to do well, but I wasn’t trying to focus on certain goals,” said Swegler-Richmond. “I’ve never run in conditions like that, and I didn’t know what the other girls were going to do, so I just went into the race with an open mindset and hoped to do my best.”

Before racing in Jacksonville, Swegler-Richmond only ran in two other steeple races this season.

Kaia Swegler-Richmond jumps the water barrier at the Holder Relays in Yakima. Photo courtesy of Karen Swegler.

At the Holder relays in Yakima, she won by eight hundredths of a second, beating Eisenhower's Hannah Hilton after trailing for all of the race till the very end.

Then at the USATF Pacific Northwest meet, she finished in third.

“Both the meet in Yakima and the regional meet were her two practices,” said Biesel. “She didn’t have a way to do water jumps outside racing, but with the little experience she had, she did well in those races.”

This time around, Swegler-Richmond was conservative from the start tucking behind favorite Corinn Brewer, the 2019 AAU national champion in the event.

“Once the gun went off, and we all started running, I started to get more into a mode of what I wanted to do,” said Swegler-Richmond.

For over half the race, she trailed Brewer, just within a second or two. With over a lap to go and a few more barriers to clear, Swegler-Richmond took command to the very end to win by 10 seconds.

“I definitely didn’t think I was going to leave that race like that,” said Swegler-Richmond. “It was a really great experience in a different climate, but it was also a different feeling, and I’m proud of how it turned out.”

Even her new coach, who Swegler-Richmond had been working with this entire summer before this race, saw the potential.

“I believed she could win this race, or at the very least place top three, based on how her training had been and how her mindset was,” said Biesel.

“What I saw at the national meet, she maybe had one barrier that was a little sketchy coming off the water pit,” said Biesel. “Other than that, it was the best technical race I’ve seen her run, and I feel like we’re making progress.”

Swegler-Richmond was coming off the best year of her young track career entering this national race, having never won a state title before this year, going undefeated in the 800 and 1,600, and claiming three Emerald Sound Conference titles in all three distance events.

A certain amount of athletes, in all sports, have won Washington state titles in their careers, but only a few can call themselves a national champion.

Swegler-Richmond is one of those few.

“It’s been exciting to see the progression from track season to now because I’ve been training more consistently,” said Swegler-Richmond. “I think what we did got me more in a mode to keep training, and it for sure helped me going into this race.”

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