COLUMBIA — Even though she performed impressively, things could have gone better for Nicole Mello at the state cross country championship in early November.
In the rush of competitors at the start of the race, Mello, a junior runner for Hickman High School with a chance to win, fell. She picked herself up and managed to earn a ninth-place finish, but the race, on a familiar course close to home in Jefferson City, had not been satisfying.
Since then, things have gone much better in events that have taken Mello to new places far from home.
Mello is set to run Saturday in the Foot Locker National Championships in San Diego after qualifying in regional competition. Out of 263 top runners from 13 states at the Nov. 26 Midwest regional in Kenosha, Wis., Mello finished seventh — good enough for a spot in the national race. Forty girls in all will run in San Diego, with the top- 10 from each of four regionals qualifying.
Mello said that because she was on Thanksgiving break from school, she was feeling particularly well-rested for the trip to Wisconsin with her father and was looking forward to competing. She said she was impressed at the size of the meet and how professionally it was ran.
“I’m always nervous, but I was really excited too,” Mello said. “I was like, ‘You know what, maybe I can do this.’ I went out and I was feeling good."
Mello’s confidence helped her complete the 5K course in 17 minutes, 43 seconds.
“She’s the 14th girl from Missouri to make it to the San Diego championships,” Hickman cross country coach Steve Kissane said. "The Foot Locker series goes back to 1979."
Since the Kewpies' season ended, Mello has been training under the guidance of her father. She said she’s been trying to improve her endurance by running on hills.
To prepare for the national race, Mello said she will follow the same routine she uses before any race. She has a playlist of songs that gets her pumped up and ready to run. One of her favorite songs is “Shots” by LMFAO. Mello said she will also be painting her nails dark purple.
“It’s my power color,” Mello said.
Mello said she and her father hope to see the beach while they’re in California, and she is also looking forward to getting to know some of the other runners who qualified for the event. She will be rooming with one of the girls she competes against.
“Just to be able to run with 39 other top girls in the country, I think it’s just amazing that I even made it this far,” Mello said. “I am so excited to compete amongst the best, really, so I just want to go out there and see if I can keep up."