Even before the gun goes off and she puts her explosiveness on display for all eyes to see, Rachel Battershell can feel her heart beating rapidly. It’s the type of nervous and excited anticipation that drives a champion. At some point, a calmness and a clarity rests within the Wyoming native.
In the moments before each race, Battershell clutches a tiny cross attached to her lightweight necklace. It’s always there to remind her: God is with you. What else is going through her mind, one might ask?
Says Battershell, “God please make my heart not explode right now because it’s beating so fast. There’s a verse that I repeat over and over to myself – He’s able to do immeasurably more than we ask or imagine, according to His power that is at work within us. To me that means, yes I’ve worked hard, but to an extent, God is still supporting me in this time. There’s no limit to what I can do when He is with me.”
It’s a significant driving force that is doubly powerful when combined with the athleticism and work ethic of Battershell. Head coach Matt Beisel and his track and field staff marvel at how even such things as Christmas break fail to throw Battershell off her game like it does for so many other collegiate athletes. The biology major hasn’t even completed two full years at Concordia and she’s already turning heads.
This indoor season, Battershell became an absolute star. On Thursday (Feb. 27), the conference recognized her as the GPAC Women’s Indoor Track and Field Athlete of the Year. She won GPAC titles in the 60 meter hurdles and 400 meter dash and helped the 4x400 meter relay to a championship and a conference meet record. Heading into next week’s NAIA indoor national meet, Battershell tops the nation in the 400 meters.
“She’s the first person to give glory to God,” Beisel said at the conclusion of the GPAC championships. “The first thing she thinks about when she finishes a race is God. She gets a lot of strength from that. She’s a gamer and she competes.”
At 5-foot-4, Battershell doesn’t necessarily have the long strides of some of her competitors, but she makes up for it with technique, talent and determination. Considering her high school accomplishments, Battershell’s success at the collegiate level probably shouldn’t be thought of as a huge surprise. She won nine individual state championships at Wheatland High School. With a population of less than 4,000 people, Wheatland was home for Battershell
Within a new small town, Battershell’s community of supporters has grown. The Concordia community hadn’t existed in Battershell’s world until the latter years of her high school career. She referred to Seward, Neb., as being located at the “far reaches” in terms of the distance she was willing to move away from home. In the words of Battershell, “It’s a long trip, but it’s worth it.”
Continued Battershell, “Being from a small town I kind of like the everyone knows everyone and supports everyone mentality. It’s nice to know your professors and know that they care about you aside from just in class. Walking down the street everyone smiles and says hi to each other.”
Beisel first learned about Battershell from an online recruiting profile. On paper, Battershell’s accolades and race times were enough to catch plenty of recruiting attention. Battershell’s own personal search centered mostly within her home state. Beisel initiated contact with an email and suddenly a school in eastern Nebraska had entered the mix. Battershell noted how different Beisel was from many other coaches she heard from. He wasn’t afraid to talk about his faith. It made a big difference for Battershell.
She was convinced that Concordia was right for her, but there was one more obstacle for Battershell to clear. During her senior year of high school, Battershell fell hard while hurdling in practice. The result was torn ligaments in her ankle that would require surgery. It meant she would begin her college career rehabbing from an injury. Not quite ideal, but of course it was an easy decision for Beisel to honor the scholarship offer. His new prized recruit would quickly learn when to push hard and when to pull back.
“If you don’t do well that’s on you,” Battershell says in explaining what fuels her. “I like to do everything I can to prepare myself. I definitely had to adjust after the injury. I had to learn that even if you aren’t ‘going ham’ every day you’re still growing. You have to know when to rest.”
The days leading up to a big meet, like last week’s conference championships, are not the time to drive oneself towards exhaustion. For the GPAC meet, Battershell honed in on two individual events and the relay. A year earlier when Battershell anchored the 4x4 to a GPAC title and All-America finish, she was merely scratching the surface of her vast potential.
In 2020, Battershell was looked at as a GPAC favorite and one of the conference’s top female athletes. How would she handle the weight of such high expectations? Says Battershell, “It can be easy to focus on other people’s expectations of you but when you’re more focused on that, you’re less focused on the race itself. I like to visualize a lot. Okay, I know how to take the first eight steps to that hurdle and go over that hurdle fast and sprint to the next one. I really just try to take my brain out of it and break it down to the mechanics. I know how to do this and I’ve trained for it.”
Already the school record holder in the hurdles, Battershell wants more. With God at her side, there truly are no limits.
Says Battershell, “I think there’s a quote about how satisfaction is the death blow. You can always keep growing. The moment you step back and say that you’re done, you’re finished. You really have to be focused on hitting that time every day in practice. Then it builds and builds and builds. I want to show others what God has done in my life. That’s a huge motivator for me.”