Eastern Oregon University senior Karlee Coffey won a national title in the 10,000 meters and the 5,000 meters at the NAIA outdoor track and field championships in Marion, Ind., over the weekend. (EOU athletics file photo)
Eastern’s Coffey wraps up career with pair of national track titles
Before this season, Karlee Coffey was already one of the best runners in Eastern Oregon University’s history.
But after this weekend, Coffey may very well go down as the best.
The senior claimed EOU’s first- and second-ever outdoor running national titles, winning the 10,000 meters (34:52.07) Thursday and the 5,000 meters (16:47.38) Saturday at the NAIA outdoor track and field championships in Marion, Ind.
“It’s kind of surreal,” Coffey said. “It didn’t really set in until (Monday) or (Tuesday). I had an intent going into EOU and in the process I developed a passion — that passion allowed me to work hard, and when you fall in love with something it’s all the better.”
Coffey adds the two national outdoor titles to the 3,000-meter indoor national championship she won in 2011. She is a four-time cross country all-American, a two-time indoor track all-American and a five-time outdoor track all-American. Her 11 all-American honors rank her third all-time in EOU history.
And what’s even more impressive is that Coffey is a 32-year-old mother who has only been running for four years.
“A marvelous weekend to end a marvelous career,” EOU head track and field coach Ben Welch said. “A pretty remarkable career overall, especially as she did not do athletics in high school.”
Coffey, who has used long-distance education this term to finish up school from Portland, said it was a goal of hers to win both races at the start of the season.
But things weren’t always easy for her.
Training away from the team and raising her 6-year-old son Elliott added to her stresses.
“You just can’t develop without a coach,” Coffey said. “I started training with an elite group of girls. I looked into transferring, but EOU gave me long-distance education opportunities — and it was just home.”
All of the hurdles in her way didn’t stop her from torching the rest of the field at the national meet in both races.
In the 10,000 meters on Thursday, Coffey ran a conservative first 5,000 meters before pulling away to win by nearly a minute.
“In the 10,000 I knew I wasn’t going to have to run hard,” Coffey said. “When we hit the 5K mark, I knew I couldn’t (keep that pace), it was too slow. So, after the 5K mark, I just went into it. I felt comfortable and lapped everyone except the second-place girl.”
Two days later she missed the meet record by just eight seconds in the 5,000 meters.
“I was confident I was going to win the 5,000,” Coffey said. “When we hit the 400-meter mark at 89 seconds, I knew that was too slow. And when I finished, I was just shocked. For four years I have been trying to hit this fitness level, and I was finally able to do it.”
Coffey said the successful weekend to end her career made all of the struggles she has overcome a little sweeter.
“It was epic and life changing,” she said. “It was the most life-changing time for me — going through a divorce, raising a child — it made me learn what dedication and determination is and what it can do for you.”
Welch was quick to agree.
“Things were difficult at times, but we were able to overcome those obstacles to have her end as the most decorated runner in school history,” the coach said.
Coffey said she is planning on staying in Portland and running for the Bowerman Athletic Club. She is going to try to qualify for the USA track and field championships at the end of June.
Whatever she decides to do in the future, there is one thing that can’t be denied. She has etched her name in the record books at Eastern Oregon University.