The running world first got to know the name Alisha Williams during her college days at Western State College in Gunnison. And, despite running now being more of a competitive hobby than anything to her, over the past 10 years Williams has gained elite status in distance racing.
The Frederick High grad is gladly accepting a different kind of challenge for the upcoming fall: writing an acceptance speech for the Mountaineer Sports Hall of Fame. That, she said, might be one of the more daunting tasks she’s had to do in awhile.
Williams will be part of the 20th class of athletes to enter the school’s hall, and the banquet will take place Oct. 10 in Gunnison. For Williams, it’s an honor made even more special because of the company she will be entering with.
“There is such a huge tradition of strong runners at Western, and so to be inducted into the Hall of Fame there is a huge honor,” Williams said. “It’s really cool because coach (Duane) Vandenbusche is going to be inducted at the same time. It’s neat to be able to be inducted alongside someone who was responsible for bringing me to Western in the first place and then have such a huge impact on my life in general.
“The only thing that’s hard about that is, coach Vandenbusche is a pretty epic speech-giver, so it’s probably going to put mine to shame.”
One of the Warriors’ all-time greatest athletes, Williams was a star for the small Division II school — a college she never really thought of attending until very late in her senior prep season. The last-minute decision turned out to be a great one for both her and the school.
Gunnison, like Boulder, is a runner’s paradise and Western State (now known as Western State Colorado University) was a championship contender at the Division II level for years. Vandenbusche coached 10 Div. II National Championship teams in his 32 years at the school.
Williams was an all-season runner, too, competing in cross country as well as indoor and outdoor track from 2000-05 (she redshirted her freshman year). In cross country, she helped the Mountaineers to a pair of national championships and was a four-time All-American. In track, she won six total national titles — two each in the indoor mile, the outdoor 1,500 meter run and the outdoor 3,000.
“Growing up in a small town, I just kind of loved the feel of Gunnison,” said the 32-year-old, who still holds Western State’s 1,500 meter record at 4 minutes, 16.42 seconds. “The whole atmosphere up there set us up as runners. We learned a lot about life, too, about how nothing comes easy and that if you work hard, eventually you’ll see results. Those things have carried over for me, for sure.”
The ability to run at a high level still has not wilted away, and it could be argued that Williams is only getting stronger. Sure, she has a full-time job as a senior financial reporting analyst. That hasn’t kept her from early morning or late night runs, and most definitely hasn’t kept her from prestigious events.
She finished fifth in the open division of the U.S. Cross Country Championships in Boulder in February, but has had more success in a variety of road and track races. In 2012, Williams won her first marathon (California International Marathon, finishing in 2 hours, 34 minutes) and in 2013, she won the Payton Jordan Stanford Invitational 5,000 meter race.
Also in 2012, she competed in the 2012 U.S Olympic Trials in the 5,000, the 10,000 and the marathon. In the 10,000-meter race, she finished fifth and narrowly missed a trip to London.
Some of her recent accomplishments have kept her desire to compete for an Olympic bid in 2016.
“(The trials) was my debut, so I really didn’t have any expectations other than trying to finish,” she said. “I really had no idea what I was getting into, and I ended up doing a lot better than I thought I would. I loved the marathon and that got me interested in doing another one.
“I’ll probably go through at least the next trials.”
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