'Non-traditional student,' star athlete
UW-Oshkosh's Christy Cazzola takes unique path to three titles
LA CROSSE, Wis. -- Two special presenters handed out the 5,000-meter winner’s award to Wisconsin-Oshkosh junior Christy Cazzola on Saturday -- her six-year-old son, Noah, and three-year-old daughter, Kaya.
“I’m a non-traditional student,” Cazzola said afterward, smiling about her coaches’ insistence that Noah and Kaya bestow her awards.
She turned in a non-traditional performance during the final day of the 2013 NCAA Division III Women’s Outdoor Track & Field Championships, winning the 800-meter, 1,500-meter and 5,000-meter events.
“This might be my last NCAA championship, so I had to make sure that I gave it my all and saw what I could do out there,” Cazzola said. “I’m so amazed that I won three events. I don’t know how I did it -- I don’t -- because all of those girls out there are amazing athletes. Any other day somebody else could win. I don’t know how I won all three in one day.”
Her victory in the 1,500 is her third consecutive outdoor title in that event. She entered this week’s championships, held at host Wisconsin-La Crosse’s Roger Harring Stadium at the Veterans Memorial Field Sports Complex, as the top seed in both the 800 and 1,500. She was the 14th seed in the 5,000, which didn’t seem to matter.
Cazzola won the 1,500, her first event Saturday, in 4:17.221. Up next was the 800, where she churned out a victorious 2:05.93. Her winning time in the 5,000 was 16:31.17.
“You just have to focus on one race at a time,” she said. “When you think about all three, then it just becomes jumbled and you can’t think of all three races because they’re all run so different and tactic-ly.”
Still, pounding out three distance victories on the same day is more than noteworthy, especially at an NCAA championship meet. And, it’s the second time this year she’s done it. At the Division III indoor championships in March, where the Titans won the women’s team title, Cazzola captured individual titles in the mile and the 5,000 meters. She also won a third event title as part of the Titans’ distance medley relay team.
But, on Saturday at La Crosse, Cazzola admitted a bit more inspiration that was publicly apparent. Her indoor 5,000-meter performance had displeased her, because she felt she’d hung in the rear of the field for too long and raced only at the end.
“So I felt like I really didn’t give them a good race -- like my competitors, I didn’t actually race with them,” she said. “So [Saturday] I actually put myself up there and definitely they brought the hurt on. I was like, you’re right, I deserve it. Give it to me.’”
Bouncing from one race to other on a cloudy, chilly day, with a persistent breeze, she refused to be swayed from her outdoor goals. Once she’d won the 800 meters, she got ready to attack in the 5,000.
“I just had to realize, okay that’s over and the next one is the 5K,” she said.
Although a year of eligibility remains for the 27-year-old from Kaukauna, Wis., she’s on track to graduate in December and embark on a teaching career instead of more collegiate athletic competition. She’s student-teaching at a high school near Appleton, Wis., and is excited about those prospects once her secondary education degree is complete.
“Things are going really well there and hopefully it’s an 18-week job interview,” she said.
If she decides to teach full time, it won’t be the first time she’s chosen something else over running. As a decorated high school prospect, Cazzola says she was overwhelmed with DI scholarship offers and the uncertainty of what to do after her 2003 high school graduation. So, she went to work instead of to college.
It has been blessing; she met her husband, Shuma, during that period. Noah arrived prior to her decision to return to school, then Kaya came along in 2009.
The entire family was present Saturday thanks to a doable, cross-state drive. It was their first time watching Mom in a national championship.
“He’s a chef and he feeds me very well and takes care of me so much,” Cazzola said of her husband. “He’s a great supporter to have. When I want to give up, he doesn’t let me.”