By Jake Knabel, Director of Athletic Communications
During a normal summer, Kim Wood might be seen trekking across country roads, kicking up gravel in her hometown Greeley, Neb., a small town of 466 people. But the summer of 2014 took her far, far away from the family farm and what she perceived as normal. Instead of the usual cornfields as a backdrop, she found herself immersed in a foreign nation surrounded by the deep blue vastness of the Mediterranean Sea.
Needing to stay in shape for the upcoming cross country season, Wood still carved out time to run. She did so in the crowded streets of the European island of Malta, a picturesque nation located roughly 50 miles south of Sicily. The resulting photos of Wood posing amid exotic backgrounds had friends back home in Nebraska a tad envious.
“Some people would say, ‘I saw your pictures on Instagram and I’m such a good friend because I liked them even though I was so mad at you and jealous,’” Wood said.
Wood, expected to be the frontrunner for head coach Kregg Einspahr’s Bulldog women’s cross country squad, settled on a summer internship in Malta after her qualification for the NAIA outdoor track and field national championships prevented her from being part of Concordia’s medical mission trip. It all worked out just fine as the psychology and behavioral science major found an opportunity to work with a pediatric occupational therapist in Malta and experience a whole different world.
“I’m definitely a small-town farm girl,” Wood said. “It was a big change for me, especially going over there alone. I learned a lot. It was a really great experience. I learned a lot about different cultures and saw that there was more out there. My dad always told me, ‘Not everyone is from Nebraska, Kim.’ Yeah, I definitely learned that this summer. It was good just to experience different cultures.”
Wood got cultured by meeting her apartment roommates and locals, jumping off cliffs into St. Peter’s Pool, hanging out on Malta’s sandy beaches, living up the night life and visiting other nearby islands. Of course there was also the internship part of the more than two-month stay in the bustling city of greater than 400,000.
The internship offered Wood the chance to work with children of Malta who had autism, ADD or ADHD. She helped them learn everyday life skills such as how to dress, how to properly wash their hands, how to write and how to function at the right energy level.
For someone with an infectious personality, the internship proved to be a natural fit for Wood, who describes herself as someone with a “goofy personality, love for life and an ambition to chase down dreams.”
“I learned a lot this summer and I was able to do more in Malta than I would have been able to in the United States,” Wood said. “There was a lot more involvement with me in the clinic so that was really neat.”
Now back in Seward for her junior year, Wood will trade the swimsuit and Malta cliffs for her Bulldog cross country garb and lengthy running paths. A three-time NAIA All-American on the track, Wood now appears primed to carry that success over to cross country.
It’s no small feat that Wood has risen to the top of the heap for a program that has consistently produced NAIA top 25 and even national runner-up finishes.
“She is one of the toughest competitors I have ever coached,” Einspahr said of Wood. “She is tougher than nails. She’s got great foot speed, excellent overall body strength and is extremely competitive. She’s really looking to have a breakout season. I’m certainly hoping that she does because that’s what we need. We need a frontrunner. She’s really committed to doing that. She’s a hard worker and I think ready to have a great season.”
After finishing above her teammates in most of last season’s meets, Wood settled for 40th place at the 2013 GPAC Cross Country Championships. However, it was just her second season participating in cross country after running only track during her prep career at Greeley-Wolbach High School.
With a great offseason of training under her belt, the expectations are growing for the Bulldog frontrunner.
“For me it’s really a mental challenge,” Wood said of adjusting to cross country. “At first it was a physical challenge getting into that kind of shape. Now it’s definitely just a mental challenge getting into the right mindset. I wasn’t used to that. I’m still getting myself into that longer distance mode and keeping myself going over that long distance.”
At least Wood no longer has to worry about dodging cars traveling down the left side of the pedestrian-unfriendly streets of Malta. She may miss the beaches and the crystal clear Mediterranean waters, but it’s time for a new adventure – one she hopes ends with a little hardware and a trip to the national championships in November.
“We’re hoping to win the conference championship and I really think we can do it,” Wood said. “I think it’s a matter of saying we can do this and putting ourselves out there and running our best.”
Wood and company officially begin the season on Saturday at the annual Woody Greeno Invite held at Pioneer Park in Lincoln, Neb.