Since graduating from Missouri in 2018, Karissa Schweizer has been living in Portland, Oregon, competing for the Bowerman Track Club.
The professional club, affiliated with Nike for long-distance runners, has given Schweizer an opportunity to hone her craft and improve — to new heights — the speed and stamina with which she won six individual NCAA titles in less than a two-year span while starring for the Tigers.
Schweizer added an elusive accomplishment to her resume in setting the indoor American record for the 3000-meter run at 8 minutes, 25.70 seconds on Feb. 28, right before the coronavirus pandemic shut down the sports world.
"We're just doing some intersquad meets and I think we're just trying to salvage as much of the season as we can," Schweizer said Thursday of training amid COVID-19. "Right around the end of February is definitely when (the virus) peaked here. At first, we stopped going to the gym together, started doing more home-gym stuff. And then it seemed like every day just kept getting progressively worse with how serious this was.
"We eventually got down to the point where we're meeting alone for all of our daily runs. And then I would meet with one other person for workouts, and then our coach wouldn’t even be there. ... We were definitely very restricted to social interaction and just our normal team environment. So it was definitely a huge adjustment. But I think all of us just came to realize how grateful we are for when we do get to run together."
Before her return to the track earlier this month, Schweizer had been finding creative ways to pass the time and train while in quarantine. She had some blank canvases around her home, so she took up painting.
The 24-year-old Schweizer also became a proficient baker, trying out a new recipe every few days. Her signature baked good is a caramel brownie with chocolate chips.
Running, of course, was still Schweizer’s main focus.
The northwestern United States became one of the country’s hotspots for COVID-19 early into the American outbreak. Schweizer and her Bowerman teammates didn’t think it was a suitable environment to train in, so they packed and moved to Utah for about two months before returning to Oregon.
It’s a far journey from where Schweizer figured she would be at the end of July, as the 2020 Summer Olympics would have started next week if not for the coronavirus.
"I gave myself a couple weeks to just be sad about it and then realized that everyone's struggling right now and that I just needed to regain my focus," Schweizer said of the pandemic. "It gives me a whole other year to get stronger and even more ready when the (Olympic) trials come. So I'm very grateful that I'm young in my career right now and can afford this kind of delay. I know there's a ton of people in different situations that this delay is just really devastating because they just want their careers to be done or they're kind of like on the breaking side. So I'm grateful for that point. And I'm just trying to put everything into perspective."
The next time Schweizer competes in a race with runners from around the globe and ones who don’t call Bowerman Track Club their home base is yet to be determined. With teammates such as St. Louis native Colleen Quigley and Shelby Houlihan, some of Schweizer’s top competitors, pushing her inside the ovals near Nike’s headquarters, expect the Tiger alumna to continue her escalation through the world of distance running once true competition resumes.
"I think we're just trying to make this year kind of mimic a normal year as much as we can," Schweizer said. "So we're just going to do a couple more races here. ... We're just going to go for different times and (personal bests) and hopefully to make the most of the season."
Schweizer’s major success comes after not being a highly touted recruit in high school. It wasn’t until her junior year that she won an individual NCAA title. Her first NCAA championship appearance ended with a 155th-place finish.
"End of my sophomore year, we kept building that momentum and really my goal going into nationals was just to get All-American, and I really surprised myself and ended up getting third," Schweizer said. "And to myself, I was like, ‘Wow, I think I peaked early, this might be the best I ever get.’ And then right away, (MU head cross country coach Marc Burns) was just like, ‘Someday you're going to win nationals,’ and I'm just like, ‘You think?’ I don't know, I was questioning it.
"But as the training progressed and when I came into cross country my junior year, I just had another level of determination and just fitness ready to attack the season. And that was definitely just the season that I took off from there."
Schweizer credits her favorite memories as a Tiger to the fall of her junior year, with the Tigers winning the NCAA Midwest Regional team championship and then the standout earning her first individual NCAA title a few weeks later.
"I look at it like Columbia is my second home," the Urbandale, Iowa, native said. "And I just feel like if I didn't go there, I would have never gotten to the level that I'm at right now. It really set me up for success. And I always want to give back to that. And I always want to show my experience there to people that I meet out here in Portland or around the world that I just want to keep promoting Mizzou because I had such a good experience there and truly loved it."