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The Higher Purpose Hero Series: Heather Kampf

A 9 Time All American and one of the most highly decorated track athletes in the history of the NCAA, Heather understood at a young age what it took to achieve any goal. A 2005 graduate of Rosemount High School, Heather received All State honors in Track, Band, and Gymnastics (Vault, Honorable Mention). Despite all her early athletic success, she was still able to apply her powerful mindset to the classroom, finishing with the second highest GPA at Rosemount High (Class Salutatorian).

Upon graduation from high school in 2005, Heather made the decision to pursue her dream of running track for the University of the Minnesota, earning the school’s first NCAA title in 2006. Her phenomenal athletic career at U of M was capped off by being honored with the President’s Student Leadership and Service Award which is presented to a student who embodies the highest form of leadership on campus and in outside communities.

Graduating in 2009 with a 3.9 GPA in Kinesiology, Heather has embarked on a professional running career with Team USA Minnesota and is preparing to compete for a spot on the 2012 Olympic Team! I am honored to share Heather’s story and I hope her life serves as a reminder that anything is possible. 

1. You have experienced a tremendous amount of success at a very young age in many different aspects of your life. What are your short and long term goals moving forward?

Short term and long, my aim is always to improve. More specifically, this year it is my personal goal to run new personal best times in basically all of my events. It may sound like a lofty goal, but I believe that my events compliment each other well, so improvement in one should help the other! My current best in the 800m is 2:01.05, and I’d be happy to get anything below that, but my primary goal is to break 2 minutes. As for the 1500, I’ve run 4:15.74 but would love to be in the 4:12 range, and I’d also love to break 4:30 in a road mile this year (I ran 4:30.95 last year). As for outcome goals in the short term, I want to make a USA Outdoor Track and Field Championship final. I have been a semifinalist before, and last year I had an unfortunate experience of getting tripped from behind in a preliminary round, so this dream of mine has been put on hold for a year. Of course once in the final, the big goal would be to qualify for the World Championships team. Thinking more long-term, next year is an Olympic year, I hope to stay healthy, get faster, and make a serious run at London, 2012!

2. What has pursuing your dreams taught you about yourself? About Others? About Life?

Pursuing my dreams has filled my life with wonderful highs and heartbreaking lows. It has taught me so much about patience, hard work, and sacrifice in the journey. I have learned a lot about myself and what truly motivates me to continue on my quest, and I have met so many inspiring people who share my seemingly silly dream of running in circles really fast. I’ve found that having positive, unconditionally supportive and loving people in my life has been essential to keep me grounded, motivated, and happy. As for life lessons, running has taught me there is much more to life than running! My priorities will always be my faith and family first, regardless of how much time and energy I invest in the sport, these are the things that will be there no matter what my future career holds.

3. You were a 9 time All American at the University of Minnesota and one of the most highly decorated Track & Field Athletes in the history of the NCAA. You accomplished all this while compiling a stellar 3.9 GPA and graduating with a degree in Kinesiology. What lessons from the athletic experience have you applied to succeeding in other aspects of your life? What do you hope young fans take from your legacy?

I think the dedication that is required of a consistent distance runner applies very well to academics, music, or any other discipline, really. In athletics, I’ve learned that hard work doesn’t always pay off. For some reason or another, you can be totally prepared for a competition, but still have a sub-par race. The bigger lesson I’ve learned from these experiences though, is not to beat yourself up about failed attempts when you are still blessed with the opportunity to try again. In everything we do, there will be good days and bad days, but perseverance and a good attitude can take you a long way. If I could be remembered by young fans for anything, I would hope they would remember me first and foremost as a good person. I’d also hope they’d know that I always gave my all, 100% in everything. Then, whatever ‘legacy’ I leave, it is all I could possibly do. I don’t want to be one of those athletes that people always wonder what COULD have been. Lastly, but most importantly to me, I’d hope fans would remember that I am running to represent God and the gift He has given me. I have always hoped that my popularity in running would provide a platform from which I could share my faith. I believe with Christ, all things are possible.

4. You have become a Youtube sensation with your 600m victory in the 2008 Big 10 Championships where you fell and had the courage to get back up. Were you surprised looking back on the race that you were able to win after falling? Do you have any interesting stories about how this race has impacted the lives of others?

Oh my goodness, this video definitely has gone viral. You would not believe how many people have contacted me about it! I certainly don’t mind, I am just so amazed how this race was in 2008, and just now the video is flying around so much! I was very surprised by this race, but not just because I was able to win after falling. From my memory of the actual race, I was running, my feet got tangled up with the other runners’, and I stumbled a bit. I honestly thought I bent at the waist, put both hands on the track, the other runners went around me, and then I continued running again. That night after the race, I was driving to dinner with my parents, and I kept saying, “I don’t know why everyone is making such a big deal out of this, I hardly even fell!” That’s when they pulled out their video camera and showed me the race for the first time, I could hardly believe it when I saw myself sprawled out on my stomach on the track. After seeing that, I knew that what I did that day was not just an act of my own will, but an act of God. One thing that I love to remember from that meet was the fact that my team won the Big Ten Championship by 8 points, and I earned exactly 8 points in that race. Certainly that impacted the lives of my teammates, coaches, and our MN fans, but in addition to that, I have heard from many people how this race is an encouragement and inspiration to them. A pastor in Texas even contacted me to use this video as part of his Easter sermon this year, as an example of getting up after a big fall. Very cool.

5.  In 2009 you were presented with a President’s Student Leadership and Service Award. How would you define a good leader? What do you believe are the most effective ways to develop leadership in our country?

First of all, I think a leader must have strong moral values. Whether you lead with your words or your actions (or both!), you must yourself be led by a strong sense of right and wrong. I think a leader should be confident enough to take the lead, but also humble enough to allow and encourage others to take the lead every now and again. Great leaders are oftentimes really creative, and good problem solvers. Leaders should be good listeners, because I think the best way to lead a group is to really get to know and understand the goals and feelings of the group so you can motivate them in ways that work. And lastly, of course I think leaders should be positive, optimistic people- those are the most fun to be around, and the easiest to follow! To develop leadership in our country, I think one really needs to gain the trust of the people, and stay true to their word because we as Americans have been through a lot lately.

6. What would you suggest to people who lack a sense of purpose in their lives? Was there a certain event in your personal life that built the foundation for the enormous amount of success you have experienced?

I have always said that you can assign your own significance to anything. Sometimes other runners that I know will speak negatively about themselves and how they are running at such a lower level of competition than me. What I say to them is that it’s all relative. I may be vying for a spot on an Olympic team someday, but if you are shooting for a new best time in a community 5K race, that is YOUR Olympics! Enjoy where you are, wherever you are, and know that your achievements have to be based on your own standards, not the incredibly wide span of talent levels in this world. This goes for running, and EVERYTHING else you could be involved in. Whether you know it or not, someone probably looks up to you, so it is so worthwhile to do everything to the best of your ability and do it with integrity too.

I don’t think I could pinpoint one specific event in my personal life that has built the foundation for my success, but I can name a few very important people who have been my support system and foundation for my entire life: My parents, Frank and Connie Dorniden, my sister and future brother in law, Kara and Alex Rosas, and my husband, Ben Kampf. All of these people have loved me unconditionally, supported me wholeheartedly, and have given me the courage and the strength to try the things that have brought me so much success. I would also have to mention my coaches, all the way from high school, through college, and currently, and my teammates, who actually make all of this FUN despite the pressure and hard work that goes into it!

7. I have found in my own life that my greatest achievements often come as a result of confronting some of my greatest fears/obstacles. What have been some of the biggest obstacles that you have had to confront to this point in your life? Do you have any special practices that help you with confronting adversity?

I feel like I have been so very blessed in my life, and would barely even call my obstacles “real obstacles” in comparison to the hardships many people face on a daily basis. With that being said, some of my tougher days have been dealing with losses in the family, injuries, disappointments (as I mentioned earlier, I was tripped and fell at the USA Championship meet last year, and didn’t get up quite as quickly as I did at the Big Ten Championships…I was heartbroken to miss such an important opportunity), and dealing with the stresses and pressure of traveling and competing at such a high level. My faith is what keeps me grounded and helps me get through the toughest of times. I have trust in the Lord that everything happens for a reason, and I try to count my blessings for all the good things I still have going in my life.

8. Are there any specific books that have had an impact on your life that you would recommend to help younger generations realize their potential?

I am inspired by other people, so I would suggest checking into whether or not your personal hero has a biography, and reading it. One book I read recently and loved was Marla Runyan’s, No Finish Line: My Life as I See It.

Heather Kampf is a leader who deserves to be heard. Please follow Heather Kampf’s professional career through TeamUSAMinnesota and tales from her personal life on her brand new blog.

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