Uhl returns to Iowa State as volunteer coach

Lisa Koll, senior, leads the pack during the 3,000-meter run at the Big 12 Indoor Championship. Koll was selected as a finalist for the Honda-Broderick Cup, a top honor awarded annually to a female collegiate athlete.

Tim Reuter

Lisa Koll, senior, leads the pack during the 3,000-meter run at the Big 12 Indoor Championship. Koll was selected as a finalist for the Honda-Broderick Cup, a top honor awarded annually to a female collegiate athlete.

Mark Specht

Lisa Uhl, former ISU national champion and U.S. Olympian, has returned to Ames to be a volunteer coach for Corey Ihmels, while possibly making a dash for the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.

Uhl clocked a personal best at the 2012 Olympic Games in London, running 31:12.80 in the 10,000-meter run to finish 13th.

When Uhl initially decided to attend Iowa State in 2005, it was because she felt an immediate connection to the university and the track and cross-country runners who were soon to become her teammates.

“Honestly, it was just a feeling,” Uhl said. “I could just picture myself being there, spending time there and being happy there.”

Coming out of high school, Uhl was not recruited by colleges outside of Iowa for cross-country or track, but she did receive offers from many in-state schools.

A native of Fort Dodge, Iowa, Uhl never won a state cross-country or track title while running for Fort Dodge High School, but she did set the school record in the 3,000-meter run (10:16.71) and was also a member of the 2004 All-State cross-country team among other accomplishments.

ISU track and cross-country coach, Corey Ihmels, said that when he and other coaches saw Uhl — who was at that time known as Lisa Koll — at the team’s cross-country camp, they thought she would be a good fit at Iowa State.

They recognized Uhl as someone who had high academic standards for herself, in addition to having potential as a runner.

“She was just a good kid,” Ihmels said.

Although he believed Uhl had potential, Ihmels said he would be crazy to say he knew she would accomplish all that she has.

While running for the Cyclones in both track and cross-country from 2005 to 2010, Uhl won seven Big 12 Championships and four national championships, earned Academic All-American honors multiple times, and set school records in the 3,000-meter indoor, both the indoor and outdoor 5,000-meter, and the 10,000-meter races.

Uhl left Ames in 2010 and continued racing professionally. She trained in Portland, Ore., with coach Jerry Schumacher and alongside Olympians Shalane Flanagan and Kara Goucher. This all led up to her performance at the London Olympics.

Beginning a few weeks ago, Uhl said she began discussing a return to Ames with Ihmels, where she could train with him and be a volunteer assistant coach with the ISU cross-country and track teams.

“It was an extremely difficult decision,” Uhl said of leaving Portland. “It just wasn’t the right fit for me at this time. I was very successful [at Iowa State], and I was really happy back here. I really wanted to come back to something that felt like home. It was really just a feeling, again.”

Uhl had her first practice with the cross-country team Monday. She described the practice as “mostly meet-and-greet” for herself, where she met with most of the women on the team, went for a run with a few team members and began learning her new role as a volunteer assistant coach.

As a coach, Uhl sees her job as being a personal support to the athletes.

“What I would love to do is just make everyone on the team enjoy what they’re doing every day they do it,” Uhl said.

Some current members of the women’s cross-country team, like graduate student and dietetics major Dani Stack, competed with Uhl when she was still an athlete at Iowa State.

“I couldn’t sleep I was so excited,” Stack said, regarding her feelings when she received a text from Uhl saying that she would be returning.

Stack believes Uhl’s presence and example, as both a runner and person, will only benefit the team.

Ihmels is happy to see the positive reaction from his team to Uhl’s return. With Uhl coming back to train with him, he will be focused on her training in addition to the team’s. But the team is still his number one priority.

Immediately, Uhl is trying to make the U.S. World Championship team in June. The U.S. trials will be in Des Moines, where Uhl and her husband, Kiel Uhl, currently are living. If she makes the team, she would compete in the World Championships in August in Moscow.

In the long term, she plans to possibly make a switch to competing in the marathon and making the 2016 U.S. Olympic team.

Uhl, who was a veterinary medicine major, does not rule out possibly taking classes while back at Iowa State, although she said this year it will be unlikely.