EXCLUSIVE: How Nixa native Courtney Frerichs went from high school gymnast to Olympic silver medalist in the steeplechase

NIXA, Mo. – Being a late-comer to distance running, Courtney Frerichs would have never imagined herself being a steeplechase competitor, let alone in the Olympics. 

Frerichs started her track career as a short distance runner in middle school, but her first love was gymnastics. During her senior year at Nixa High School, she had to leave the gymnasium after dealing with injuries. That’s when she switched her focus to Nixa’s cross country team, which made its way to state. 

This was an accomplishment that Nixa’s team had never experienced before in Class 4. Frerichs said that team had a particularly close bond, which helped her find her love for long-distance running. 

Her main objective was to make all-state selections but came up short in a run where she collapsed at the three-minute mark – causing her ranking to fall from the top 10 to the top 50. Frerichs says that coming so close to accomplishing her goal and coming up short was what pushed her to see how far she could go with the sport. Soon, she began receiving offers from universities around the Show-Me State. 

During her freshman year of undergrad at the University of Missouri – Kansas City (UMKC), her coach was particularly interested in her athletic background and began talking to her about the steeplechase. 

 “It requires other skills besides just running ability,” said Frerichs. 

After her college career at UMKC, she decided to follow Coach James Butler to the University of New Mexico as a Lobo for her 5th year. She eventually went on to win the NCAA steeplechase title at the 2016 NCAA Division I Outdoor Track & Field Championships, setting a collegiate record of 9:24:41. 

As for her Olympic trials. Frerichs says that the United States has a very clear-cut system for qualification.

“It’s just a time qualification,” Frerichs said. “There is a world ranking system that can come into factor if you haven’t hit the Olympic standard. But, typically most athletes in the United States are hitting the Olympic standard. That is the top time that you are aiming for.”

“If you are standing on the line at the Olympic trials and you get the top 3 and you have this Olympic standard time, you are automatically named to the team.”

Frerichs said she is especially proud of today’s steeplechase competition because women were not allowed to compete in the steeplechase in the Olympics until 2008. 

She is also very appreciative of her sponsors: Nike, Bowerman Track Club, Highland Dairy and ArtiKen. Frerichs says that one of the biggest perks is getting to train at Nike’s headquarters in Beaverton, Oregon where she resides. Often getting to test out new shoes and spikes, she loves the aspect of being a tester because she gets to give back to Nike for helping her pursue her dreams. 

When asked about qualifying for her first Olympics in Rio in 2016, Frerichs said it was a “dream come true” and attributed her success to the mindset her college coach instilled into her.

“That was just such a dream come true,” Frerichs said. “I think it was a testament to my college coach, really instilling so much belief that I could do something in the sport. I was so new to the sport and was almost unaware of the potential I had. He made me believe that I could get to this level. 

“I felt fortunate to start my professional career having made the Olympics. I think it taught me a lot and had me dreaming bigger.”

Frerichs says that once she got to Tokyo, she was nervous but not to the point where she could not perform. 

“In Tokyo when I arrived, I felt so grateful to be there because there is a lot that happened in the last year and a half,” she said. “It seemed like the games may not even happen. Nerves are always present, but gratitude outweighed the nerves.”

Frerichs says she comes back home and visits Nixa a few times a year and is grateful to have such widespread community support.

“It’s super fun how involved the community has been,” she said. “I felt so much support from Nixa, Springfield and Southwest Missouri. The people you are surrounded by and people who believe in you make a big impact. I’ve been lucky to have people who believed in me going into this.”

Even though she still is in the prime years of her career, the Nixa native says she is already thinking ahead to future Olympic Games and the legacy that she’ll leave behind.

“I would love to target L.A., in the 2028 Games,” Frerichs said. “I’ll probably be towards the end of my career, but it’d be a cool way to go out. I’m taking it one year at a time, not getting too far ahead of myself.”

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