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From national to international championships: Wilma Nielsen

Wilma Nielsen crosses the finish line. Photo courtesy of Bradley Athletics.

The average person walks over 11,800 miles in 10 years and over 165,000 college students graduate in that same time frame. 10 years is also the last time a Bradley Brave was added to the small list of first team All-American student-athletes.

After a successful Missouri Valley Conference tournament win in the 800 meter, redshirt sophomore Wilma Nielsen qualified for the NCAA Championship, placing fifth in the preliminary race and taking a spot in the finals.

“I went into the championship with high expectations,” Nielsen said. “This time, I wanted more than just to qualify.”

The recent success is not unwarranted, as Nielsen has already written her name into various school records in her short time at Bradley. This also wasn’t Nielsen’s first time around the national track since she had previously qualified for the tournament during her rookie season. Nielsen finished her first season on the Hilltop as the third-ranked freshman in the country.

Bradley track and field head coach Darren Gauson has seen the progression of Nielsen as both a student and an athlete.

“[She’s] one of the best in the nation, really quiet, hardworking, great student and person,” Gauson said. “She’s definitely improved a ton in her time here.”

Video by Rodrigo Perez

Running from one championship to another, Nielsen had the opportunity to compete internationally in the 2021 European U-23 championship. Held in Estonia, Nielsen went on to earn the bronze medal, making strides internationally.

Coming back to Bradley after her record-breaking rookie season and a successful summer, Nielsen would only make one appearance for cross country as an injury ruled her out for the indoor season the following year.

“It didn’t really give me a good build up,” Nielsen said. “This fall though, I really had a great build-up and I had so much endurance going into indoors and we worked a lot on speed.”

“I’m really happy on what I did this indoor season because I have much higher goals for outdoors,” Nielsen added.

With the good build-up, Nielsen was able to run some of her best races during the indoor season this year. As the NCAA Championship got closer, Nielsen was able to take the 800-meter school record at the David Hemery Valentine Invitational hosted by Boston College.

Apart from the internal competition that all runners use to impulse them further, Nielsen also has her twin sister junior Julia Nielsen for support. 

“We have been racing since we were six,” Nielsen said. “It’s really nice having her here like, without her, it would feel so much harder being away from family, but now I have her here, and the team is also like a family.”

Video by Rodrigo Perez

While the indoor portion of the season might be wrapped up, the outdoor portion is on the horizon. Nielsen might not be on the bus for their trip to Normal for the Redbird Challenge, but Bradley will look to keep the good momentum going past the spring.

Looking forward to the future, qualifying for a European senior competition or reaching the podium in the championship is on the to-do list for Nielsen as she continues her career as a Brave. 

Video by Rodrigo Perez
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