Gulf Shores, Ala. — University of Montana Western senior Mindy Kaufman brought her career to a crescendo as she set a school record as she ran her way to a third-place finish in the 5,000 meters (17:32.88) at the NAIA National Championships.
Based on available records, Kaufman is the first female track-athlete to podium at the NAIA national meet.
“I’m still in disbelief,” a jubilant Kaufman said. “If this is my best day, this is what it looks like.”
“It’s really special for her going out exactly the way she wanted to,” Montana Western head track coach Dylan Zitzer said. “Her four years changed our program and put us on the map.”
As the race started, Kaufman held her own and stayed with the pack, as the runners bunched together with only a second separating spots 2-16.
“Running in the prelims yesterday gave me an insight for today,” Kaufman said. “I knew what my strength was and I saved energy and moved later in the race.”
As the race progressed, Kaufman stayed consistent. At the 3,000 meter mark, Kaufman sat in 11th place with still only a second separating 10 runners.
“It was pretty clear that if I played it smart, I knew the others would wear themselves out,” Kaufman added. “If I stayed patient then I knew the race would work itself back to me.”
Late in the race as the field started to separate she made her move.
“With three laps left, my thought was ‘Why not me?'” Kaufman said. “I thought about all the hard workouts on the treadmill and by myself in a blizzard and I knew that the last 800 was going to hurt, but not as much as all those efforts combined.”
“After running all those 1,500 meters with (teammate Eireann O’Connor) I was confident with my speed, and I ran really hard,” Kaufman added.
Kaufman this past fall, was named Frontier Conference Runner of the Year and NAIA cross country All-American. She added to her resume with a third-place finish in Gulf Shores to become the first female track athlete to earn the prestigious All-American honor for Montana Western.
— Montana Western