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Going out on top: Battershell reclaims joy in capping incredible career

By Jacob Knabel on May. 11, 2023 in Track & Field

That light at the end of the tunnel is glowing brightly, but Rachel Battershell has done her best to put on her blinders. That time for reflection is nearing for one of the most accomplished track athletes in Concordia Track & Field history. “It’s really special,” Battershell offers as she fights off a rush of emotion just a few days after competing in a GPAC championship meet for the final time in her career. It’s a challenge to sum up five years’ worth of mostly ups – and some downs – into a few sentences.

So fittingly, as the 2023 conference outdoor meet logged its final seconds, there was Battershell speeding to the finish line while lifting the 4x400 meter relay to a conference championship. In the moment, Battershell’s competitive expressions may have looked fierce, but that was her way of displaying joy. This was fun.

“It’s not been easy,” Battershell admitted in discussing the scope of her college career. “There have been some identity things I’ve had to work through. In that, I’ve had so much support from coaches, teammates and professors. Anyone doing this sport puts a lot of pressure on themselves to do well. It’s about overcoming that and finding that joy. You have to have joy in the opportunity and with the people that surround you. That’s what makes it fun. I’ve been trying to put less pressure on myself and focus on having fun.”

The incredible achievements for Battershell have included two 400-meter national titles, 11 All-America awards, 13 GPAC event championships and school records in the indoor 400 meters, indoor and outdoor 4x400 meter relay and the 4x100 meter relay (and previously held two hurdles records before they were broken in 2023 by Adrianna Rodencal). The Wheatland, Wyo., native really broke out during indoor 2020 when she was named the GPAC Athlete of the Year and won the 400-meter national title in a blistering school record time of 54.77. Over her 10 semesters, Battershell has contributed greatly to nine GPAC team championships (2020 outdoor canceled by COVID-19) and to five NAIA national team trophies (fourth place or higher).

Not only that, Battershell has triple-majored in Biology, Chemistry and Exercise Science and has done so with a nearly spotless GPA. In pursuing her career and athletic dreams, Battershell has found the right home. Faith is important to Battershell, and she saw Concordia as the place for her to grow in that aspect of her life. Prior to each race, Battershell clutches a tiny cross attached to her necklace and prays. It’s symbolic of Battershell the person – a servant leader and the epitome of what Concordia Track & Field aspires to be.

Says Battershell, “I chose Concordia because of the community that I saw – the Christ-centered community above that. The faith that I’ve gained here is above and beyond what I ever expected. That and the connections with people – it’s insane.”

The people of Concordia have helped guide Battershell in her journey. She’s worked especially closely with event coach Mark Samuels and professor Dr. Kristy Jurchen in the Department of Natural Sciences. Originally an education major, Battershell found herself headed towards a different path. To be honest, there are still a number of different ways this could go. Battershell could see herself in a coaching capacity in the future.

“The hardest decision was going a more medical route as opposed to a more academic research/professor type route,” Battershell explained. “I didn’t make that decision until last summer. It’s been really hard, but the triple major has allowed me to keep my doors open and to keep learning while figuring out where God is wanting me to go. I decided to triple major for the unique perspective I would get in looking at the same systems from three levels of complexity. Having the fifth year of eligibility helped solidify that decision, but it wasn't the basis for it.”

An elite athlete and student, Battershell can tell you firsthand that everyone goes through something. The path to success does not simply move in a straight upward trajectory. Battershell blew the roof off all expectations as just a sophomore when she won a national title that wasn’t fully expected. Perhaps too often, Battershell has tried to live up to that achievement. She managed to pull it off again in 2021 with another indoor 400-meter national title. Adversity then hit in the form of a chronic injury that kept her from hitting the same 400-meter times she worked tirelessly to achieve. Battershell had put too much pressure on herself, and she wasn’t finding the same joy.

“I do put a lot of pressure on myself, as I think anyone in my position would,” Battershell said. “A lot of it is realizing that from season to season, your body changes and your mind changes. There are so many factors. The thing to focus on is not the pressure, but what I can do today or this week to make myself better to hopefully be in that position again.”

Battershell has made her fifth and final season all about fun. There’s something about new freshmen teammates that has been reinvigorating. They have the perfect role model to lean upon in Battershell, who has made 2022-23 all about having fun. It’s why she got into track in the first place. When competition becomes solely about winning, disappointment is sure to follow. Battershell has that perspective now.

At the 2023 GPAC Championships at Dordt, Battershell had a ball. The wins were the byproduct of the right preparation and attitude. She placed first in the 400 meters and as part of the 4x1 and 4x4 relays. When Battershell needed that extra gear in order to push the 4x4 over the top, she found it. Asked if she knew the Bulldog 4x4 was going to win when she received the baton as the anchor leg, Battershell smiled and said matter of factly, “Yes, I did.”

One last time, Battershell enjoyed the victory lap with her teammates, the GPAC championship and banner in tow. She and teammate Erin Mapson have the distinction of being there from the beginning of the conference championship streak that started in 2019. Said Battershell, “I’ll remember sharing that joy with my teammates, especially the freshmen. Seeing their excitement was so fun. The races themselves were very fun. In the middle of a race, I don’t usually do this, but I was thinking to myself, ‘this is fun.’ I’ll remember before and after the races, talking to teammates and other GPAC people. It’s the people. It’s the people.” Added Battershell, “I’ve had so much fun this year.”

This balancing act that Battershell has performed for five years has been worth the toil. She will experience one more national championship meet before heading off for a new chapter. Battershell will be part of the Physiology PhD program at the University of Arizona. It’s a place she visited, interviewed at and found the type of community feel she sought, despite the school’s larger size.

Back in high school, Battershell began to look at Concordia after receiving an email from Head Coach Matt Beisel. Their shared faith resulted in an instant connection. As Beisel said in 2020, “She’s the first person to give glory to God.” In the years since, Battershell has experienced a life-changing journey. This part of the joy-filled journey is nearing the finish line.

“I'm thankful for this whole community supporting me and the team,” Battershell said. “It is not easy, but we are never on our own. I'm so thankful God brought me here, but at the same time I'm very excited to see where He takes me next.”