COLUMBIA — In a parking lot behind the Missouri Athletic Center, Nicole Mello takes time away from her normal Wednesday morning schedule. She works her way across the parking lot hiking her knees up to about stomach level moving forward with each step. Her father, Cesar Mello, looks on with his arms crossed examining her every step.
Her father then instructs her to move on to another light exercise, and she starts to run sideways across the parking lot, one leg in front of the other.
She and her father go through light exercises twice a week, recovery days in a week in which she will put in from 20 to 25 miles of running. She is staying loose for cross country season, something that she is used to.
Nicole Mello, 14, will enter her fourth year of competitive running when she joins the Hickman cross country team this fall.
“It does not take a genius to see that she has the talent for long distance running,” Hickman cross country coach Steve Kissane said. “Running against seniors will be a different ballgame. It is too early to tell how she will do at this level.”
She has been successful since the first day she started running competitively.
She got her start with the Columbia Colts youth track team as a sixth grader in 2006 and immediately became a standout long distance runner. She qualified that year for the USA Track and Field National Junior Olympic Cross Country Championships and finished 59th out of 232 in her division.
Columbia Colts youth track coach Dick Hessler said he knew Nicole Mello was special as soon as she joined the track club.
“She is a dream come true for a coach,” Hessler said. “She is very upbeat, and she never complains. She picked up running techniques so quick I did not have to teach her much of anything. I could always depend on her to help her teammates. She would finish the race and go to the sidelines to cheer her teammates on. She had the perfect attitude for running.”
In 2007, Nicole Mello entered uncharted territory for any member of the Columbia Colts. She placed second out of 278 competitors in the 11- to 12-year-old girls division of the 3K race at the USATF National Junior Olympics. She finished in 11 minutes and 15 seconds, which Hessler said was the best finish by a Colts runner at a national meet.
“When I finished, I could not believe it. I had no idea what I had done,” Nicole Mello said. “I stepped it up a notch that year, and it paid off.”
Nicole Mello had to contend with frigid conditions in the event held at Rim Rock Farm in Lawrence, Kan. Hessler said the course is difficult to run because it has no flat area and the runners always have to run uphill or downhill.
To make things more difficult, a snowstorm iced over the track making it muddy and slick, something that Nicole Mello embraced. She said she thinks she is at her best when running in bad weather conditions.
“Anyone can run in sunny weather, but when it rains or snows, it makes it more fun for me,” Nicole Mello said. “You don’t know what to expect in those conditions. I like the challenge of it.”
Nicole Mello said she has been heavily involved in sports since she started cross country. She said she also swims for the Columbia Swim Club, and she also plans on running for the Hickman track team in the spring.
She said her father has encouraged her to get involved in sports year round. Cesar Mello is a physical trainer at Wilson’s Fitness, and he helps Nicole Mello with her conditioning outside of her practices.
Cesar Mello has competed in Ironman triathlons, marathons and swim meets. Nicole Mello witnessed many of her father’s sporting events, and she has taken up the same lifestyle as her father.
“I teach her a few things I have learned over the years,” Cesar Mello said. “I want her to continue as long as she’s having fun.”
Nicole Mello said her dream is to run in the Boston Marathon with her father. She also hopes to make the Olympics, which Hessler said is possible.
“In my 50 years of coaching, I have not seen anyone run with the efficiency that she does,” Hessler said. “There’s nothing coming down the pipe that she will not be able handle.”