If Kristen Findley had gotten her wish, she might never have set foot on a track, or at least not to compete. Growing up near the snow-capped mountains of Boise, Idaho, she dreamt of becoming a downhill skier one day. She was so taken with the idea, just about the only thing that could have deterred her was if the snow itself were to disappear—which, in a way, is what happened.
“I absolutely loved skiing, but when I was 10, my dad got a job in Saudi Arabia and we relocated there,” she says. “I’d definitely be a downhill racer today if we hadn’t left Idaho.”
Findley is not one to look back with regret, though. “I’ve always enjoyed trying new things,” she says, and that’s exactly how she approached life abroad. In particular, she tried several different sports at her school in Dhahran—basketball, soccer and even horseback riding, among others—but it was running that ultimately hooked her, thanks to her coach, Ian Wilson.
“He was a tough coach, but he also believed in me and knew what I was capable of,” she says. “It’s often easier to rise to other people’s expectations of you than to the ones you set for yourself.”
Findley has since exceeded those early expectations, breaking records at both her boarding school in California and Vanderbilt. As a Commodore she set four new school marks: in the indoor 1,000 meters, outdoor 1,500 meters, indoor distance medley relay, and outdoor 4×1,500-meter relay. She also was part of the 2011 SEC Champion women’s cross country team.
Findley credits Steve Keith, BA’81, Vanderbilt’s head coach for track and field and cross country, for helping her fulfill her potential as a runner. “He has such a knack for knowing what’s best for me,” she says. “I trust his judgment 100 percent.”
Although she has competed in a variety of events, her favorite is the individual 1,500 meters. “It’s fast enough to be exciting but slow enough that you don’t really know what’s going to happen until the last lap,” she says. “It’s unpredictable.”
This was nowhere more evident than at the 2013 SEC Outdoor Track and Field Championships in May. Findley was in last place throughout much of the 1,500 finals but made up ground in the last lap and finished fourth, earning Vanderbilt 5 of its 16 points—the team’s best score at the competition since 2005.
May was a memorable month for Findley. In addition to running in the SEC Championships and NCAA East Regional, she received her bachelor’s degree in biomedical engineering. She intends to pursue a career in that field while also continuing to run, perhaps through a track club that will help finance the costs of competing.
“I don’t want to put engineering on the back burner,” she says. “I want to keep it in the mix so I’ll have a direction when I stop competing.”
Wherever the path leads her, Findley knows at least one thing is working in her favor: “The good thing about running,” she says, “is that you can do it anywhere.”
In other words, snow is not required.
Watch the 1,500-meter finals at the 2013 SEC Championships.