An Interview with Heather Kampf of Team USA Minnesota

Heather DornidenMinneapolis – Feb. 28, 2011 – At the University of Minnesota, Heather (Dorniden) Kampf was a nine-time All American and the highest decorated Gopher women’s track athlete. By the time she graduated in December 2009, she was the only Gopher who had competed in every NCAA Championship in cross country, indoor track and outdoor track during the time she was at the University. She was also an NCAA Indoor Champion in the 800 meters.

Kampf joined Team USA Minnesota in January 2010 and since that time has finished third in the 800m at both the 2010 and 2011 USA Indoor Track and Field Championships. As a professional runner, she is competing in the 800m, the 1500m and the mile.

You seemed to have many talents in high school (four-time letter winner in gymnastics, first-chair flutist, class salutatorian at Rosemount High School in the Twin Cities). What made you focus on running in college?

Heather: I think everyone kind of chooses their focus in college based on what they like the most, what they are best at, and perhaps what can earn them a scholarship. While I loved gymnastics, I was by no means good enough to compete at a collegiate level in the sport. Then with the flute, I had been practicing scholarship audition pieces and had intended to play in college, until I started getting scholarship offers for running as well. I knew both running and music would demand quite a bit of my time - especially on top of academics - so I decided that running was the thing that made me happiest, and I could continue to play the flute on the side if I had time.

Are there other runners or athletes in your family?

Heather: Well, both of my parents have some running experience under their belts. My dad ran the 800m on his high school track team, and my mom started running longer distances a bit later in life. Looking a little further back, I have a great Uncle Harry (Oestriech) who was a conference champion in six track events for Gustavus Adolphus College in the mid 1920's, and my family likes to think I inherited some of his talent.

How did you make your decision about where to attend college and what team to compete for?

Heather: Coach Matt Bingle from the University of Minnesota was the first to contact me on the first day for recruiting, and did the best to maintain communication with me as I sorted out college options. I went on some other visits and heard from a lot of coaches, but his and Coach Gary Wilson's approach to developing well-rounded women and athletes was really appealing to me, and I was happy to stay close to home and my family.

When did you first consider competing post-collegiately and what did you do to pursue that dream?

Heather: I think after I won an NCAA title in the indoor 800m my freshman year, I started to dream about competing against not only the best collegiate athletes in the country, but also the best overall athletes in the U.S. At that point I still had plenty of competing left to do in college, so I basically just trained hard and continued working on building up a better running resume.

Did you have a support system or someone to guide you in making the transition to “professional runner”?

Heather: My coach really helped me in making connections with people in the professional running world. We also had a lot of long discussions about different training centers I was considering. I also contacted a couple friends who had already gone through the pro transition and got a lot of good advice from them.

What were your biggest concerns when making the decision to be a pro? Just over a year into your career, is there anything that you are still trying to figure out?

Heather: I was primarily concerned about if I would really "make it" in the professional running world. I was worried I might not get an agent, or a sponsorship. I didn't want to fail, for one, but I also didn't want people to think I put my "real life" pursuits (going to grad school to become a physical therapist) on hold to chase an unrealistic dream. Now just over a year into my pro running career, I have settled my past worries, but still wonder what I need to do to become a true contender for world championship and Olympic rosters.

What criteria did you use to help you decide where to train? (Location, coach, training partners, etc.)

Heather: Location was a big factor to start off. I thought about going to a lot of different training centers, but in the end decided that I have the best support system right here in Minnesota, and that is one thing you can't find just anywhere. Coaching was also very important and while I loved my college coaches, I felt I needed a "change of stimulus" in training to get me over a plateau that I had reached. So, when choosing my training group I wanted to know what types of workouts my coach would have me do, the mileage I would run, what he thought about weight lifting, plyometrics, etc. Ideally, I was hoping to train with at least one other person that was as fast or faster than me in my events. I also took into account what the training group had to offer in terms of massage therapy, athletic trainers, nutrition, and any other support I may need to stay healthy.

Most training centers seem to focus on “distance” running (5K and up). Was it harder to make the decision of where to train as a middle-distance runner? What special concerns did you have?

Heather: Yes, I felt a bit more limited in my options, especially because a lot of middle distance training groups that are really successful are content with their current athletes and have no interest in developing new people at the moment. I wanted to make sure that I would be getting workouts that cater specifically to middle distance, not just shorter versions of distance workouts. I also wanted to make sure my coach had a realistic idea of the mileage I should be doing, and that he wouldn't slowly transition me into a longer distance runner as well.

What are your long-term goals in your running career?

Heather: Well, my big dreams are to qualify for a world championship or Olympic team. As I pursue those dreams, I have goals of breaking 2 minutes in the 800, and getting down closer to 4:30 (or under!) in the mile as well. Kind of outside of the performance side, I have always hoped that I could become "famous" enough in my running career to act as a positive example of a strong, Christian, female athlete so I could use my position as a platform to inspire young girls to chase their dreams and stay true to their faith.

What is your college degree in? Do you have a job/ career outside of running? Do you have plans for what you will do once you retire from running?

Heather: I majored in Kinesiology and minored in Psychology. Currently, I have a few part-time jobs- working as a personal care attendant, an assistant track and cross country coach at Apple Valley High School, and at a running shoe store. I geared my undergraduate education to eventually go back to grad school for physical therapy, so I guess that is still my plan unless I find something else that excites me before I finish my running career!