NOTE: A version of this story first appeared in the summer edition of Concordia University's Broadcaster magazine.
There are certain people that are known throughout the Concordia University campus. President Brian Friedrich is one. Kim Wood is another.
The legend of THE Kim Wood especially blew up in February mostly because of what she had just accomplished on the track, but also because of a social media post that helped illustrate her endearing personality. In a short eight-second clip tweeted by former teammate and roommate Erika Schroeder, Wood was asked, “Do you get tired?” In replying the way only she can, Wood, with a mouth full of food, retorted, “Sometimes when I’m sleeping I get tired.”
“It took flight in a way that I wasn’t expecting,” Wood said of the tweet. “I had people on campus who I’d never met before asking me, ‘hey Kim, do you ever get tired?’ I’m like, ‘who are you? Do I know you? Nice to meet you, too.’ I was just really surprised at how popular the video got. It was really funny.”
Popularity and on-campus fame did not come without some struggle, frustration and even some tears. She admits she experienced a meltdown. Early on in her career, Wood felt defeated after a 1,000-meter race at the Devaney Center in Lincoln. Her performance came up short of her own high expectations. Even worse, she had lost sight of the things that made running enjoyable for her.
“I got done and I did not run well,” Wood said. “I was so frustrated. I remember my dad was at the finish. I got really upset and I broke down crying. It was embarrassing. ‘Look at the girl. She doesn’t know how to lose, does she?’ That was embarrassing. It wasn’t fun anymore. I told my dad, ‘It’s not fun. I want to have fun but it’s not fun.’ He told me, ‘well, it always is more fun to win.’ I’m like, ‘even when I win it’s not very fun.’”
But athletics offer the ultimate platform for redemption. Wood, described by former head coach Kregg Einspahr as “tough as nails,” would not crash and burn. She’s wasn’t going to be that athlete that people would end up wondering about what could have been. She may not have realized it at the time, but she was much too resilient to give in.
Not even a battle with bronchitis could slow down Wood on Feb. 20, 2016, the date of the GPAC indoor track and field championships. On the way to the meet, a sleep-deprived Wood sat coughing in the bus seat in back of Einspahr. Said Einspahr, “She was hacking left and right behind me. I was thinking, ‘we don’t need this today.’”
Wood starred as Concordia’s version of Michael Jordan, who scored 38 points with flu-like symptoms in a 1997 NBA Finals game. Wood actually topped that. She totaled 41 points while winning four individual races, three in GPAC meet record time in what was one of the more remarkable single-day performances by any Bulldog athlete. Ever. It all happened in a span of less than three hours inside the same Devaney Center where not long before tears streamed down when things seemed hopeless.
Cry no more. This was Kim Wood’s day. Said Einspahr, “That is just an unbelievable accomplishment for her. That will stand for a long, long time and be remembered by a lot of people. I know there were a lot of coaches that were pretty amazed by that.”
Did Wood ever expect anything like this to happen? “Noooooo,” Wood quickly replied while holding onto the word for emphasis. The small-town farm girl, who grew up in Greeley, Neb., population of 462, as Wood proudly rattles off, stood out amongst her peers at Greeley-Wolbach High School. But what does that really mean for someone who graduated with a class of exactly 10 students? The basketball team she played on had only five team members.
A young Wood rode horses and displayed them at 4-H gatherings. She also served as an undersized middle on a volleyball team that even won a state championship. On the track, she typically ran short distances, usually 200 and 400 meter races, but she never participated in cross country. Most college recruiters didn’t even seem to notice her. Said Wood, “I think I got maybe two calls from colleges ever.”
Concordia coaches discovered a diamond in the rough. Someone who never ran more than three miles at a time in high school projected as a strong distance runner in cross country and middle distance performer on the track – if, IF, she worked hard to hone her craft. She had a long ways to go to be able to compete with someone like Sarah Kortze, a GPAC champion cross country runner and 2012-13 Lincoln Journal Star state college female athlete of the year. Recalled Wood, “I remember the first day coming in. I was so intimidated just looking around at everyone. ‘Oh my gosh they’re so good. Wow, look at them.’ I was just like, ‘whaaat? I’m on the team!’”
Little did she know how ecstatic the coaching staff was to have someone who flew under the radar in high school. Assistant coach Samuels remembered how impressed he was while watching Wood run at a high school meet held in Grand Island. Said Samuels, “We were blown away by how she competed. I immediately called Coach Einspahr and said, ‘I don’t know what your plans are for the future, but she is going to be a really, really good middle distance runner.’ It’s a story we tell among our track coaches.”
But what Wood has accomplished transcends the expectations that Samuels, Einspahr or anyone associated with the program could have reasonably entertained. Admitted Samuels, “I thought she could be good, but what she’s done this year has been pretty impressive.” The word impressive is good, but it only partly describes performances that leave you in awe while thinking, ‘did she really just win another race??’
Consistency in routine and a drive to be great have made Wood one of the best in a long line of All-American Concordia runners. At one point during the indoor season, Einspahr gave her immense praise in saying, “Kim is training at as high a level as any female runner I’ve ever had at Concordia.” Even while making summer treks the past two years to the European island of Malta and to China, Wood has carved out time in preparing to be the best. She runs like a mad woman. Just ask her. Says Wood, “I’ve kind of just accepted that people think I’m crazy. I just go with it. Seriously though, it’s really fun to see how much you can push herself. You want to see what your body can do.”
Wood departs from Concordia with five individual school records, 12 GPAC titles, seven All-America awards and as a contributor to the first team national titlist in Bulldog women’s track and field history while going through the grind of constantly being in season. Cross country in the fall. Indoor track in the winter. Outdoor track in the spring. All four years. With a smile.
From under recruited out of small-town Greeley to post-race breakdown to one of the more accomplished runners in Concordia track and field history – it’s been a wild run. The 2016 GPAC indoor championships could be appropriately titled, “The Kim Wood Meet.” If she didn’t already demand enough attention from winning four conference titles and breaking three meet records, the tweet seen ‘round campus surely did the trick. Just for good measure, Wood adding a screeching ‘wooooo’ in an interview following the team outdoor national title.
“I don’t know if my family is really surprised. I was always kind of a go-getter with everything I did,” Wood said while reflecting upon her career. “I’d say I’m probably more surprised than they are. They probably expected me to do my best. They’re maybe just surprised that this is my best and it has come this far.”