A week after Idaho’s high school track state championships, several District 6 coaches were using similar superlatives to describe Skyline’s Nelah Roberts as they did earlier this season.
Their consensus? Roberts continues to amaze as she achieves things not done before by an eastern Idaho girl.
“She surprises me every time she does something new,” said Sugar-Salem head coach Brett Hill, who in May collected his 50th state title in 28 years of coaching in Idaho. “She’s doing incredible things. She’s done some amazing things this year.”
“Every time you watch her run, she’s just incredible,” Idaho Falls head coach Kelcee Christensen said. “She’s just so sweet and has a good attitude.”
Incredible, amazing and historic are all fitting words for Roberts’ sophomore outdoor track season.
She went undefeated versus Idaho competition in the 1,600 and 3,200 meters, becoming the first eastern Idaho girl to break both the 10:45 barrier for the 3,200 and 5-minute barrier for the 1,600. She repeated as state champion in both events with personal best times, running 4:58.06 to shatter Bethany McInturff’s 4A 1,600 state meet record (5:00.18 in 2008) and 10:30.63 to take down Lexy Halladay’s overall 3,200 state meet record (10:30.80 in 2017) and Emily Nist’s 4A state meet record (10:45.66 in 2012).
Roberts’ times are the No. 3 fastest 3,200 and tied for No. 9 fastest 1,600 on record for an Idaho girl, per milesplit.com.
While describing this season, Roberts expressed gratitude, faith and humility.
“I kind of just like thinking about, ‘Everything happens for a reason,’” Roberts said. “A couple years ago, and I said this before, I never would have expected to be in this position I am now. God has a plan and is watching over our lives. It’s crazy to see how things have played out.”
Seven months after receiving the Post Register’s All-Area Girls Cross Country Runner of the Year honor, Roberts is the Post Register’s All-Area Girls Track Athlete of the Year. She joins 2020 Bonneville graduate Sadie Lott and 2013 Skyline graduate Brooklyn Anderson as recent female athletes to receive multiple all-area athlete of the year honors during the same school year.
Skyline head track coach Chase Meyer’s own words sound much like Hill and Christensen.
“You have to kind of step back and remind yourself that what you’re watching is pretty special,” Meyer said.
“She puts in the work and the effort and on race day, she kind of crushes it. You kind of have to enjoy the moment.”
That effort included grueling interval days at practice. Those intervals came to mind during the seeded 3,200 final at the prestigious Arcadia Invitational in April.
“At the 600 mark I was like, ‘This is like another interval day,’” Roberts said.
She placed third in 10:32.37, her first sub-10:54 time, and gained some perspective.
“There’s moments (in practice) where I’m like, ‘why am I doing this?’” Roberts said. “I finish a race well and it makes it all so worth it. It’s definitely a feeling you can’t get anywhere else.”
Roberts has also learned to live in the moment this season. Seeing athletes close to her age become injured has driven that point home, and she is learning to balance pursuing her goals while listening to her body. She said her dad, Eric, is helping to keep her accountable by encouraging her to speak up the moment anything seems off.
“If I feel something hurting, it’s just better to be on top of stuff rather than wait too long,” she said.
Roberts said Arcadia and the Tiger-Grizz Invitational--the latter of which took her under the 5-minute barrier for the first time in the 1,600--were the biggest surprises this season. She is chasing the 10:20 barrier next for the 3,200, an opportunity she will get Saturday in the girls championship 2-mile at the Nike Outdoor Nationals. She is making the trip to Eugene, Ore., with Skyline teammates Claire Petersen (100 hurdles, open 100) and Amy Baczuk (high jump) and coaches Meyer and Sean Schmidt. She said she is excited to compete at the new Hayward Field and running a personal best ‘would be great,’ adding that Schmidt is thinking of 10:15 or 10:10.
Meyer said he is curious what barriers Roberts chooses to chase for the remainder of her Skyline career. The longer the distance, the more she excels, but she also wants to help her team. She competed in four events at state for the runner-up Grizz, including the 800 which Meyer said is not her favorite. She placed eighth in a personal best 2:21.72.
“She gutted out a nice race and picked up a point for us,” Meyer said.
Beyond the times and medals, Roberts said what makes being a runner so rewarding is the community. That community started with her parents, siblings and coaches and continues to grow. This week will be Roberts’ third out-of-state meet since March. No matter how far she travels to compete, she notices that runners relate to each others joys and pains regardless of their age or where they live.
“Even girls from other areas of the country, other parts of the state, we all have the same mannerisms and priorities,” Roberts said. “Runners are definitely the best kind of people. I get to surround myself with these people. It’s huge, especially in high school. The people you surround yourself with are a huge part of how you grow up.”