Her last name all but guaranteed she would become a runner, but it was not until recently that Nelah Roberts’ love for running became deeper.

Growing up, Roberts competed in soccer, cross country, basketball and track. She continued in all four sports her freshman year at Skyline, participating in soccer and cross country simultaneously and reaching state in both one week apart.

With each meet she ran, something was changing.

“I didn’t really know what to expect freshman year,” Roberts said. “Soccer was more important to me. As the (cross country) season progressed, I started getting more serious.”

On Oct. 30, 2020, Roberts’ name became known across Idaho as she won the 4A girls individual state title in an all eastern Idaho best girls 5k time of 17:52.06 to lead Skyline to the girls team title. She went on to play on Skyline’s freshman girls basketball team and run track, claiming the 4A girls 1,600 and 3,200 state titles in May.

Entering her sophomore year, she chose cross country over soccer. While Roberts said lessening the chance of injury influenced her decision, she also had the running community to thank.

A community where she gave as many hugs and congratulations as she received, where spectators regardless of school loyalties cheered everyone on, where she was truly happy for her competitors because she put her body through the same pain on the same course.

“I’ve played a bunch of sports with girls teams and school teams,” Roberts said. “The running community is so different than any other sport. The people are so supportive.”

Roberts had much to celebrate this fall. She won six meets, claiming the 4A District 6 individual title and 4A individual state title to become the first Idaho Falls city school girl to repeat as individual cross country state champion since Hillcrest’s Karley Meikle in 2000 and 2001. She also became the first eastern Idaho girl to break 19 minutes at Freeman Park (18:44.2 at districts), 18 minutes at Eagle Island State Park (17:53.3 at state) and the 18-minute barrier multiple times (17:50.1 at Eagle Island for third place at Nike Cross Northwest two weeks after state).

Roberts is breaking barriers in eastern Idaho, and she is the Post Register’s All-Area Girls Cross Country Runner of the Year.

Skyline head coach Sean Schmidt said Roberts has produced some of the fastest times ever for workouts he has given runners for years. He has seen her run five 1,000 meter repeats in 3:30 each, and her next goal is to run 17:30 in a 5k race.

“It’s a joy to coach Nelah,” Schmidt said. “It’s also been easy to coach her because she’s been ready and willing to do what we ask and give her best efforts at workouts and races.”

With more attention on her this year as a defending state champion, Roberts put her faith in those who have prepared her and supported her.

“I really don’t even like to think about the race,” she said. “I’m just trusting my coaches and my teammates.”

Roberts is the latest in her family to come through Skyline. DeLoy Roberts, Nelah’s grandfather, was Schmidt’s predecessor as head coach. Schmidt coached Nelah’s brother Harrison and sister Adria, who contributed to state championships in 2016 (boys) and 2017 (girls).

Schmidt said Harrison went from being a goofy freshman to a mature, tough competitor and Adria had a mindset of ‘I’ll get it done and do it well.’ Now coaching Nelah, the third sibling in her family to be on a Skyline state champion cross country team and the only one to win individual state tites, Schmidt said she has the approach of working hard and giving her best effort to get the job done, but having fun while doing it.

“On her hard days, she works really hard,” Schmidt said. “On her easy days, she has a little more fun. She has wisdom that a junior and senior might have.”

Schmidt added that Roberts is a motivating and encouraging teammate. The Grizzlies placed third in a competitive 4A state meet last month, and Roberts expressed excitement for future seasons.

“I’ve gotten so close to the girls on the team,” she said. “I definitely think the girls team is just gonna keep getting better and better.”

Roberts said she has no regrets about choosing cross country over soccer, and she hopes for more opportunities to push herself as the Bob Firman Invitational and Nike Cross Nationals were canceled due to COVID-19 two years in a row. She plans to run in college--BYU is her dream school--and make running a lifetime activity.

“Hopefully I can pass that on to my kids and bring them into the community as well,” Roberts said. “It’s an awesome sport.”

 

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