It didn’t happen by accident. Christmas break had come and gone her senior year of high school and Sarah Lewis thought she had the next four years of her life figured out. She would follow the path of her father and attend Biola University in La Mirada, Calif. An athletic scholarship was waiting out west for Lewis, a standout in both track and volleyball.
So that obviously didn’t happen. Lewis had never officially signed with Biola. Late in the game, something was calling the Mason City, Neb., native to stay close to home. Concordia Head Track & Field Coach Matt Beisel had reached out with an opportunity she had to consider.
Recalls Lewis, “As soon as I came on my visit with my dad, it was very obvious that I didn’t want to go anywhere else. The community was huge and the track team seemed really cool. The professors I met in business were very personal and it felt like they really cared. I loved the community feel and I like a small college. The faith part of it was also huge. No matter what, I can talk to anyone here about my faith. I didn’t see a point in visiting anywhere else.”
The fit has been a near perfect one for Lewis, a business student who earns high marks in the classroom and has collected six All-America awards during a highly successful collegiate career. Lewis is one of the key components that has elevated the Bulldogs to a status as the top program in the GPAC and one of the very best in the NAIA. As an individual, Lewis has exemplified the greater purpose served by Concordia Track & Field. She’s unwavering in her faith and unrelenting in her competitive pursuits.
When the current indoor season began in mid-December, Lewis stole the show, something that’s no easy task on a team with returning national champions like Rachel Battershell and Josie Puelz. Lewis ran personal bests in both the 400 meters and the 60 meter hurdles while striding to automatic national qualifying times in both events at the Concordia Early Bird Meet. As a result, Lewis was named the GPAC Track Athlete of the Week. Indeed, Lewis can claim to be one of the very best 400 meter runners and hurdlers in all of the NAIA.
While Battershell has garnered plenty of attention with her school record performances and two 400 meter national titles, Lewis need not be overshadowed. In fact, Lewis and Battershell have grown about as close as possible over four seasons training, sweating, laughing and winning together. They share in each other’s glory. They could just about fill all closets of the house they share together with their medals. For the record, Lewis does keep her medals in a closet. Quite frankly, the relationships formed are more important than the accolades.
“Coming in freshman year, Rachel and I were the only freshmen on the 4x4,” Lewis said. “It was really easy to bond because we run the same events. We both run hurdles, the open 400 and the 4x4, so we practice together and we lift together. It just made sense that we were together all the time. She pushes me and I push her. The friendship formed very quickly. We live together in the same house and she’s a future bridesmaid of mine.”
An alum of Ansley-Litchfield High School, Lewis says that “as long as I can remember, I’ve just loved to run.” She believes she ran in a meet for the first time while in third grade and became hooked. As a high school athlete, Lewis competed all four years in track, volleyball and basketball and earned recognition as a National Honor Society student. She says her parents are both athletic, but Lewis is the first of her family members to compete in a sport at the collegiate level.
She’s surely done her family proud while making a home at Concordia, roughly a two-hour drive from her hometown. Coach Beisel and his staff are thankful to have Lewis as a role model for what success looks like for a Bulldog student-athlete. It goes beyond the medals and the trophies.
Said Beisel, “Sarah brings joy with her wherever she goes. I love being around her – she’s like a power outlet to everyone in her presence. She has a magnetic personality and a huge heart and is a pivotal leader on our team. Coming out of the smaller environment at Ansley-Litchfield High School, where she was able to accomplish some big things in the hurdles at the state level, she had a lot of room to grow and develop as an athlete in a big environment like this. It’s been so much fun seeing her rapid progression to All-American athlete and school record holder. I’m grateful to God that He brought her to us.”
The impact Lewis had was immediate. As a freshman in 2019, Lewis helped the 4x4 break the indoor school record and earn All-America honors. It was the first time she had ever run on a 300 meter track. Another big breakthrough came last season when Lewis put herself on the podium in an individual event – the 400 hurdles. (A fun fact about Lewis is that she is listed on each of the top 11 indoor 4x400 meter relays in program history). For Lewis, every meet stirs up a certain level of nervousness, but also brings about clarity and purpose. This is why you train, the reason why you suffer through painstaking workouts.
Said Lewis recalling her first trip to nationals, “It’s so fun to run against such great competition and be there to represent our school and who we are. Then being able to do as well as we do. We broke the school record in the 4x4 my freshman year. I just remember feeling overly blessed. It was overwhelming peace and joy.”
Lewis is in a place where she knows she can trust her training – and then give “all glory to God.” There will likely be more glory to come for Lewis, who has a full indoor and outdoor season still in front of her. She wants nothing more than to soak up another trip to Brookings, S.D., and Gulf Shores, Ala., sites for the NAIA national championships.
A soon-to-be chief financial officer with a wedding in her near future, Lewis knows she’ll miss this when it’s gone. More championships would be nice, but it’s the people who have made it special. Lewis knows that God led her here for a reason.
“What I’ll remember most are the day-to-day practices,” Lewis said. “Those big moments are phenomenal. Getting trophies and plaques at nationals is amazing, but I’ll remember how hard the coaches work to help us and my teammates pushing me in practice every day. I’ll remember all the 300 meter workouts that we do that just break you down mentally and physically – but then you do it again. I’ll remember practice and how much fun we have with it. The championships are great, but I’ll remember the people the most.”