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April 20, 2021
Kaley Richards is March Athlete of the Month
First NCAA Division 1 All-American for U.Mass-Lowell
(University of Massachusetts Lowell/Lowell, MA) is USATF-New England’s Athlete of the Month for March 2021. The award recognizes her performances at the NCAA Indoor Track & Field Championships and Cross Country Championships where, in a span of three days, Richards became an All-American in both meets.
Richards attained her first All-American honor in the mile run at the NCAA Indoor championships in Fayetteville, Arkansas. After advancing through the preliminaries on March 12, Richards ran a personal best 4:36.26 in the finals on Saturday, March 13 to capture fourth place.
UMass Lowell coach Gary Gardner thinks Richards’ performance at the preliminaries was among her more memorable races because the trials can be more difficult than the finals. “It’s so hard running completely controlled in a trials race - she placed second, and looked as good doing it,” Gardner said. ”I think that brought a ton of confidence for her for Saturday and probably for Monday as well, as she was one of the better runners in the country.”
Two days later, Richards competed in the NCAA Cross Country Championships in Stillwater, Oklahoma. There, Richards ran 20:46.9 over the 6,000m course. She passed 10 of her competitors in the final kilometer to finish 30th and secure her second All-American award.
While workouts for cross country and indoor track are very different for many athletes, Gardner said that Richards was able to achieve her indoor track All-American status while only training for cross country. Due to the impact of COVID-19 on college athletics, Gardner said he was unsure if Richards
would have many opportunities to compete during indoor season, so they trained primarily for cross country instead. “We don’t have access to an indoor track because of Covid, so if it was a warm day, we tried to sneak in two or three workout which were faster than we would have planned for cross country, but that’s pretty much the only adjustment we made,” Gardner said.
To start the outdoor season on April 9, Richards set a UMass Lowell record in the 5,000m when she ran 15:54.02 to win the Ocean State Invitational.
USATF-New England spoke with Richards over the phone about her accomplishments.
When you were in high school, you were a standout athlete at Lowell High School. Do you have any advice for the athletes on the team there now?
I would tell them to definitely have fun with the process. I did have a lot of success at a young age, and I think a lot of that can be attributed to me putting in the work every day in high school. It's paid off, but I think the biggest thing was that I also had fun with it. I was really close with my teammates and my coaches. Trust the process, but definitely be happy with it too.
: You’re coming up on the end of your collegiate career. Do you have a particular performance or moment that stands out from your time at UMass Lowell?
It was definitely this past indoor season. I feel like I made a massive jump, and that had honestly been my goal. I had just missed out on indoor nationals the year before, so I think that when the pandemic happened, I was able to just focus on my training and go after those goals. So, to make that
jump and go from being the last one in at regionals a couple outdoor seasons ago to being top 5 in the country in the mile was a pretty big deal to me.
You mentioned how you were really able to lock in during quarantine. What were you able to do to keep yourself motivated?
It was definitely hard, but our sport is one of the few where you can keep doing it every single day and do it pretty safely. In the summer, I was able to go outside and do all my runs. It was hard, but I think we used that time to get strong. We did do some time trials and stuff to stay motivated, and I was running very well in them. I think that was also good for me to experience because I didn’t realize that I was getting into better shape. It was a hard thing, but it was also a good thing, because we weren’t racing as much. No stress about racing and stuff. I tried to use it to my advantage and think about my goals while training. There was going to be so much uncertainty, but trusting the process and sticking to it was kind of how we navigated it.
New England training conditions aren’t always ideal for running. Why did you decide to stay local for college?
I’m definitely a homebody, so being able to go home to my family is something that has always been important to me. I think, like you said, we don’t have the same resources that some of the bigger schools have access to, but I kind of like that. I like that we’re blue-collar hard workers. Also, just
being from Lowell, and being able to represent Lowell throughout college made it extra special. I guess we’re just tough. We have the snow and I spent all winter shoveling our outdoor track because we don’t have an indoor facility. I think that, in a way, makes me a better runner.
Running in two national championship races in three days is something very few athletes can say they have done. How were you able to remain calm and keep yourself from getting stressed between the races?
I think I was just so thankful to be there. It was my first time qualifying for both of them, so I was really excited to prove myself. Like we talked about, I’m not from Colorado or Arkansas, so I think being there was extra special. I took each race day-by-day; I didn’t want to put any pressure on myself, I was just so honored and thankful to be there and to get the opportunity to prove myself. I think that was a big part of it - putting aside the expectations on me and simply doing my best.