Marquette Cross-Country: Former MU runner Nelson on pursuing Ph.D, running and being a mother

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Cassie Nelson, wife of cross-country coach Mike Nelson, is pursuing her Ph.D. at Marquette while also keeping in running shape and being a mother. Photo courtesy of Cassie Nelson.

She’s won a marathon and she’s been disqualified from a marathon. Now she’s a mother getting back into the groove of running again.

A Google search of Cassie Peller will bring up multiple articles about her violation at the 2009 Lakefront Marathon, where she took a drink of water from a friend’s water bottle around the 19-mile mark.

She won the race with a time of 3:02.90 but was stripped of her title for violating rules of taking assistance not from an aid station.

Three years later, Peller is now Cassie Nelson and happily married to cross-country coach Mike Nelson. The couple welcomed their first baby, Brooke, in July.

Cassie Nelson ran at Marquette and traveled with the team to the National Cross-Country Championship during her freshman and sophomore years.

Her legacy at Marquette remains strong, as her name still stands as the freshman record holder in the 1,500-meter race and the indoor mile. She was also a part of every record-setting distance relay with the Golden Eagles as the lead-off leg.

She graduated from Marquette, receiving her Bachelor of Science in physiology in 2008, and went on to receive her master’s degree in cellular and integrated physiology from Indiana in 2009. Her ultimate goal is to become a professor, which is why she is back at Marquette working on her Ph.D.

The summer after a student-athlete graduates is believed to be an interesting time in her or his life, as summer training becomes devalued and there is no competitive plan moving forward. Coach Nelson experienced this himself after his running days at Truman State.

“It’s almost like a midlife crisis because your identity just totally got changed,” Mike Nelson said. “Now you’re just a normal person and not a student-athlete anymore.”

Cassie Nelson missed the competitiveness of running so much that she served as a volunteer coach at IUPUI and ran with the men’s and women’s teams to stay in shape. With not much else to do, Nelson decided to train for a marathon.

Prior to working out for the Indianapolis Marathon, her longest run was 16 miles at Marquette. Mileage increased as she got help from Mike though phone conversations and workout assignments.

The relationship blossomed and she went on to win her first marathon in October 2008 with a time of 3:06.00.

Competitively, Nelson continued to run half-marathons and the Chicago Marathon in 2010. Her running career has now taken a back-seat to motherhood, as her schedule changed since baby Brooke arrived.

“Having a baby is way harder than a marathon,” Nelson said. “If you know what the last four miles of a marathon feels like, imagine that for four hours. That’s kind of what it was like.”

Nelson will be running the Detroit Half-Marathon on Oct. 21, but her ultimate goal is to be back in top shape and run the Detroit Marathon in 2013 alongside her husband.

Nelson wakes up at 1 and 4 a.m. to feed Brooke, which lasts about a half hour. At 5:30 a.m., she prepares the baby’s bottles for day care and her husband’s lunch.

The family leaves around 6 a.m. from home and arrives at Marquette around 6:30. Six bags for school are dragged into the office as Cassie gets ready in her running clothes to take the baby to day care.

She found a window of opportunity to get a run in between dropping the baby off and office hours for class. After class, she spends time doing research and then picks up Brooke from day care to go home for dinner and prepare to do it all again the next day.

Baby Brooke is quite popular among the cross-country team. Mike Nelson has noticed that the men and the women have different approaches to her.

“The women want to hold her and babysit her and love seeing her,” he said. “The men are thinking ‘Hmm … this is interesting. This could happen to me later in life. I don’t know about this.’ They like her and think she’s cute.”

Marquette cross-country has found its new mascot and she will be on the sidelines cheering for the Golden Eagles and her mother as Cassie Nelson makes her return to competitive running.

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