Heather Dorniden Kampf: Running With Passion

Editor’s Note:  Heather Dorniden Kampf’s performance in the video below may be the most inspirational athletic performance I have ever witnessed.  It is a reminder that our perception of what is possible may be the largest limiting factor in achieving and surpassing our goals.

However, life is much more than a one-and-a-half minute race and as such, I have asked Dan Adams from Athletic Capital to share the following excerpt from his recent interview with Heather.

Heather Dorniden Kampf is a 9 Time All American and one of the most highly decorated track athletes in the history of the NCAA.  Since graduating in 2009 with a 3.9 GPA in Kinesiology, Heather has embarked on a professional running career with Team USA Minnesota and is preparing to compete for a spot on the 2012 Olympic Team.  She was recently named as a member of the Pan American team and will represent the United States in Guadalajara Mexico in October 2011.

Looking back at “The Race” and your 600m victory in the 2008 Big 10 Championships, were you surprised that you were able to win after falling?

Oh my goodness, this video definitely has gone viral. You would not believe how many people have contacted me about it! I certainly don’t mind, I am just so amazed how this race was in 2008, and just now the video is flying around so much! I was very surprised by this race, but not just because I was able to win after falling. From my memory of the actual race, I was running, my feet got tangled up with the other runners’, and I stumbled a bit. I honestly thought I bent at the waist, put both hands on the track, the other runners went around me, and then I continued running again. That night after the race, I was driving to dinner with my parents, and I kept saying, “I don’t know why everyone is making such a big deal out of this, I hardly even fell!” That’s when they pulled out their video camera and showed me the race for the first time, I could hardly believe it when I saw myself sprawled out on my stomach on the track.

What lessons from the athletic experience have you applied to other aspects of your life?

I think the dedication that is required of a consistent distance runner applies very well to academics, music, or any other discipline, really. In athletics, I’ve learned that hard work doesn’t always pay off. For some reason or another, you can be totally prepared for a competition, but still have a sub-par race.  The bigger lesson I’ve learned from these experiences though, is not to beat yourself up about failed attempts when you are still blessed with the opportunity to try again. In everything we do, there will be good days and bad days, but perseverance and a good attitude can take you a long way.

You have experienced a tremendous amount of success at a very young age. What are your short and long term goals moving forward?

Short term and long, my aim is always to improve. More specifically, this year it is my personal goal to run new personal best times in basically all of my events.  It may sound like a lofty goal, but I believe that my events complement each other well, so improvement in one should help the other! My current best in the 800m is 2:01.05, and I’d be happy to get anything below that, but my primary goal is to break 2 minutes. As for the 1500, I’ve run 4:15.74 but would love to be in the 4:12 range, and I’d also love to break 4:30 in a road mile this year (I ran 4:30.95 last year). As for outcome goals in the short term, I want to make a USA Outdoor Track and Field Championship final. I have been a semifinalist before, and last year I had an unfortunate experience of getting tripped from behind in a preliminary round, so this dream of mine has been put on hold for a year. Of course once in the final, the big goal would be to qualify for the World Championships team. Thinking more long-term, next year is an Olympic year, I hope to stay healthy, get faster, and make a serious run at London, 2012!

What would you suggest to people who lack a sense of purpose in their lives? Was there a certain event in your personal life that built the foundation for the enormous amount of success you have experienced?

I have always said that you can assign your own significance to anything.  Sometimes other runners that I know will speak negatively about themselves and how they are running at such a lower level of competition than me. What I say to them is that it’s all relative. I may be vying for a spot on an Olympic team someday, but if you are shooting for a new best time in a community 5K race, that is YOUR Olympics! Enjoy where you are, wherever you are, and know that your achievements have to be based on your own standards, not the incredibly wide span of talent levels in this world. This goes for running, and EVERYTHING else you could be involved in. Whether you know it or not, someone probably looks up to you, so it is so worthwhile to do everything to the best of your ability and do it with integrity too.

I don’t think I could pinpoint one specific event in my personal life that has built the foundation for my success, but I can name a few very important people who have been my support system and foundation for my entire life: My parents, Frank and Connie Dorniden, my sister and future brother in law, Kara and Alex Rosas, and my husband, Ben Kampf. All of these people have loved me unconditionally, supported me wholeheartedly, and have given me the courage and the strength to try the things that have brought me so much success. I would also have to mention my coaches, all the way from high school through college, and currently, and my teammates, who actually make all of this FUN despite the pressure and hard work that goes into it!

You can keep track of Heather Dorniden Kampf on twitter.

Tim is a former member of Track and Field Athletes Association Board of Directors.