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Omaha Magazine

Papillion Runner Christina Elder Increases Distance and Excells

Oct 01, 2021 01:19PM ● By Greg Echlin
brunette woman uses treadmill in red gym

Photo by Bill Sitzmann    

Athlete Christina Elder of Papillion has been around long enough to know a rigorous workout produces a ton of sweat. But she wasn’t quite ready for the proverbial cold water splash that, in reality, fueled her desire to achieve previously unattainable personal records.

She is an ascending a middle distance runner, but that’s only one aspect of her life. Elder, 33, goes the extra mile to balance her schedule between raising her children— ages 7, 4, and 20 months—and teaching physical education and health at Platteview High School, where she’s also the girls track coach. In her own running lane, so to speak, Elder’s times keep rising and, she hopes, will go to a level that eventually will lead to an invitation to the 2024 Olympic trials.

“I was worried I’d feel pressure with that, but I don’t,” Elder said. Excelling as a runner is not new to her. Before her marriage to Tyler Elder, she was known as Christina King at Wayne State College, where she was named a 2011 NCAA Division II track and field All-American in the 400-meter run and the 4x400 relay. “It just feels like a really fun dream to pursue.”

The aforementioned splash came from Tyson Thomas, whom Elder met at Orange Theory Fitness in Papillion, not far from where she lives. Elder had gotten “the itch for being competitive again” after the birth of Taytum, her second daughter and the middle of her three children.

Thomas’s first cogent message, Elder recalls, was when he told her she wasn’t pushing herself hard enough. Taken aback at first, Elder remembers thinking, “Who are you?”

They both benefited from Elder’s receptiveness to coaching.

“From then on, I took her under my wing and started giving her certain speeds that she needed to be at,” Thomas said. “That’s really what kicked it up.”

It paid off July 24 in Ames, Iowa, where Elder became a double champion at the USA Track and Field Masters national meet.

Battling extreme heat—99 degrees on the track—during the noon hour that Saturday at the Cyclone Sports Complex on the Iowa State campus, Elder won the 800-meter run. She attributes the stifling heat to preventing her from achieving a personal best time. 

The next morning, she set a personal record. In more tolerable conditions, Elder nosed out runner-up Jodi Smith, a 43-year-old veterinary pathologist from Ames, by three-tenths of a second (4:56.09 to 4:56.12) to capture first place in the 1,500-meter run. It was only the third time, each this year, Elder raced that distance competitively. 

“We did it!” Elder repeatedly told herself as she and her oldest daughter, Jocelyn, cruised the interstate the next day to the Wyoming mountains for a welcomed rest.

Thomas summarized their partnership, “There’s nothing better than being a fitness professional and having someone that has that drive and motivation.” 

Elder’s support system is comprised of her husband, who played football at Fort Hays State University (Hays, Kansas) and is more apt to swim these days than run; and Thomas, who’s also balancing life between raising three children and routinely leading fitness classes at Orange Theory. 

Then there’s her community at Platteview High, where Elder says she loves teaching and considers it a very important part of her life.

“When I’m coaching I really want to focus on being a coach, so I put on my athlete hat separately from when I’m coaching, usually,” said Elder, who’s in her 10th year at Platteview. “So I’ll ask the girls, ‘Hey, do you want me to run this rep?’ with them. And they actually love it.”

Elder says she’s felt competitive since her elementary school days. She carried it on to Millard West High School, where she chose soccer over track, since their seasons overlapped. It was there she aspired to be a teacher.

“In high school, I had some really cool teachers and I loved the impact that they made on me,” she said. “It was actually in high school when I decided, ‘I want to be a teacher. I want to do this, I want to coach and I want to give back.’”

In her first three years at WSC, she doubled as a soccer player and a runner in track. It was Elder’s speed on the soccer pitch that caught the attention of WSC track coach Marlon Brink, and he sold her on trying out for track.

Thus the transition began.

Elder has evolved since WSC from being a sprinter—she achieved All-America status—to a middle distance runner. Knowing both worlds, she has applied her experiences in each area when coaching.

Elder likes where she is but knows she literally has miles to go. 

Visit phs.springfieldplatteview.org for more information.

This article originally appeared in the October 2021 issue of Omaha Magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.  

Photo by Bill Sitzmann