In the biggest meet of her outdoor track career, Chelsea Oswald took a risk. She entered an event she had never run before.
"It was kind of a gamble because it could have backfired," said Edrick Floreal, Oswald's coach.
The event was the 10,000 meters at the Southeastern Conference Track and Field Championships last month. Oswald had never run a 10K in a meet, and injuries had kept her out of previous outdoor SEC meets. At stake was running a qualifying time to advance to the NCAA Eastern Regional, the meet that would let her move on to this week's NCAA Championships.
"I've always wanted to try the 10K," Oswald said. "This is the first season where I'm healthy enough to actually try one."
The gamble paid off.
A senior at the University of Kentucky, Oswald broke the SEC meet record en route to the first of her two titles at the event. She won the 5,000 meters a few days later. She used those victories as a springboard to the regional in Greensboro, N.C., two weeks later. At the regional, Oswald finished third in the 5,000 and eighth in the 10K.
This week she is the only athlete to represent UK in two events at the NCAA Championships in Eugene, Ore.
"It is definitely a breakthrough to make it to the outdoor national meet," Oswald said.
"We got lucky and her body held up," Floreal said.
Her immediate success in the 10K didn't come as much of a surprise to either Oswald or Floreal.
"My goal definitely was to win," Oswald said. "I had the confidence in myself."
This week marks Oswald's first time at the outdoor national meet but she is not new to the national stage. She is a three-time All-American in cross country and indoor track and field.
Both she and Floreal have said that the goal is for her to finish in the top eight in both of her events. But Oswald has set her goals even higher.
"I'm hoping I can get a qualifying time for (the USA National Championships)," Oswald said. She does not think that her current times are fast enough to gain entry into the meet in either event.
The women's 10,000 meters is Wednesday's final event, starting at 10:10 p.m. EDT. The 5,000 is scheduled for Friday at 9:15 p.m.
Although she has graduated and hopes someday to compete professionally and try to qualify for the Olympics, Friday's 5,000 will not be the last time that Oswald competes in a UK uniform. She has her degree in biology but is taking a fifth year at UK to complete classes she needs for physical therapy school. She plans on using her remaining year of eligibility in both indoor and outdoor track.
Coach Floreal has a big goal for Oswald in her final season as a Wildcat: win an NCAA championship.
2013 SEC Scholar-Athlete of the Year
2013 All-American (Indoor 3,000)
2013 All-American (Indoor distance medley relay)
NCAA Elite 89 winner for indoor track and field
NCAA Postgraduate Scholarship winner
2012 All-American (cross country)
Where: Hayward Field, Eugene, Ore.
UK athletes competing
Andrew Evans: Discus throw
Raymond Dykstra: Javelin throw
Bradley Szypka: Shot put
Luis Orta: 3,000 steeplechase
Matt Hillenbrand: 1,500
Keith Hayes: 110 hurdles
Chelsea Oswald: 5,000, 10,000
Rebecca Famurewa: Discus throw
Keilah Tyson: 100
Kayla Parker: 100 hurdles
Leigh Dannhauser: (859) 231-3447