Health Sciences Students Aim for 2020 Olympics

January 17, 2019 -- If it were up to Alex Wilson and Marisa Howard, they would run forever. But as professional runners, they know their bodies will eventually have other plans, which is why they are pursuing their Master’s of Science in Nutrition and Human Performance from Logan.


Alex and Marisa, both college standouts in cross country and track and field, crossed paths for the first time when they earned sponsorships from Oiselle Running Apparel in 2015 as professional runners. Then, states apart, the recent college graduates began Logan’s online program in January 2018. The two are happy to have each other for support while they balance working, running and schoolwork.


Alex is back at her alma mater as a full-time assistant track and field and cross country coach for the University of Northern Iowa. She earned her undergraduate degree in criminology and sociology, but shortly after graduation she decided she wasn’t quite ready to leave the track and pursued coaching instead. 


Alex dedicates her free time to her running career. She is still sponsored by Oiselle, with sights set on running the steeplechase for the U.S. Olympic Team in 2020. In 2016, Alex qualified for the Olympic trials, and in 2017, she placed 10th at the USA Track & Field Outdoor Championships.


“Qualifying for the Olympic trials was my biggest accomplishment in my career so far,” Alex said. “I couldn’t believe it when I crossed the finish line two seconds under the qualifying time.”


Marisa earned a nursing degree from Boise State University and currently works part-time as a school nurse to allow time for training and travel, plus her schoolwork. Like Alex, the steeplechase is Marisa’s best race, and she also hopes to earn a spot on Team USA in 2020. In 2014, Marisa was the steeplechase runner-up at the NCAA Championship, which was her biggest honor thus far.


“I came in kind of as a dark horse,” Marisa said. “I was in eighth place and ended up surging, passing an Olympian and finishing in second place.”


Marisa parted ways with Oiselle in 2017 and is now running unsponsored. This season, she is partnering with a non-profit called RUJA and will run with the company’s name on her jersey. RUJA means “to dream” in Ugandan, and the non-profit focuses on addressing the root causes of poverty in Uganda. “I went on a mission trip with RUJA this summer to Uganda and it was amazing,” Marisa said. “I want to help create awareness for their mission, and I can do that with my running career.”


With their busy lives, Alex and Marisa both knew an online master’s degree program was their best option. The two started searching for affordable programs that had the curriculum to suit their interests and goals. For Alex, Logan’s program was a perfect fit because it was nutrition-focused and related to sports.


“I love coaching, and this degree will help me better guide my athletes in nutrition,” Alex said. “If I decide to stop coaching later, I’ll have a great degree to fall back on.”


Marisa has always had a passion for cooking and nutrition, and she believes in promoting long-term health and wellness through lifestyle changes. Her goal is to combine this passion with her nursing knowledge to spread the word about health and wellness. Logan’s Master of Science in Nutrition and Human Performance was the perfect match.


“One day I hope to run a wellness program for a large corporation,” Marisa said. “This degree will give me the knowledge and skills to back up what I already live and preach about health and wellness.”


Alex and Marisa both feel that while Logan’s program is online, they are still receiving great support from the faculty and enjoy being part of a community. “When I first started, I had an academic advisor who would call and email me regularly to make sure I was on the right page,” Marisa said. “It was extremely helpful.”


Alex and Marisa are set to graduate in 2020, giving them two goals to work toward: graduation and Team USA. Whether we see them running the steeplechase in Tokyo in 2020, coaching or changing people’s lives with health and nutrition, these future Logan grads will change the world for the better.

From left: Marisa Howard, Alex Wilson and an unidentified teammate


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