Racer alumna runs for ‘love’ of country

Photo by Joseph Swift/@OurWorldMedia

Story by Blake Sandlin, Assistant Sports Editor

After three years of waiting, training and rejection, former Murray State sprinter Alexis Love received the opportunity of a lifetime.

On April 18, Love received a call from Team USA’s track and field team inviting her to join the team.

“It’s like I was hearing the words, but I’m like ‘OK, this can’t be real,’” Love said. “When I got the call, it was like waiting for Christmas to come.”

Last weekend, Love competed at the Penn Relays in Philadelphia, the largest track and field competition in the United States. More than 47,000 people watched as she participated in the “USA vs. The World” event, competing against Jamaican athletes as the anchor leg in the 4×100-meter relay. Love helped earn third place for the United States.

Love’s performance came at a time when she was in the midst of transitioning multiple aspects of her professional career. Just three weeks ago, Love decided to part ways with her coach of three years, forcing her to change her training and strength programs altogether. Combine that with working a job, Love said it was difficult balancing work with her career.

“For three years I’ve been working either full time or part time just to fund my track career,” Love said. “That’s why this past weekend was so big for me, because it has been hard.”

Love said while she doesn’t take her past experiences for granted, the pride and nationalism that comes with representing one’s country is insurmountable.

“It was an honor for me to represent Murray State and you know, go to Nationals, but when I actually put on the USA uniform, it was just a different feeling,” Love said. “It’s like I have the country behind my back.”

While Love is having her moment in the spotlight, her journey to the top has been plagued with adversity. Her quest to compete for the United States began her junior year at Murray State when she qualified and competed in the Olympic Trials. Love’s journey to the 2012 London Olympic Games fell short in Eugene, Oregon, however, when she failed to qualify in the 100-meter dash.

Despite the setback, Love’s passion for the sport wasn’t deterred. After graduating in 2013, Love moved to Dallas, Texas, to train for a year. She relocated to Florida to continue training full time. Love spent the next three years training to compete in the 2016 Olympic Trials. She qualified to compete in the 100-meter and 200-meter on her quest for Olympic glory.

“I was thinking ‘Here I am, I’m older, I’m not in college anymore, I don’t have classes anymore, I only have practice and I work part time so I know I’ll get it this time around’,” Love said.

Despite her confidence, Love fell short for the second time. Though she faced disappointment, Love learned a valuable lesson from the experience.

“It was definitely a learning experience, and it definitely made me more hungry,” Love said. “I’ll be honest, at first I was discouraged, saying ‘Dang it, this is my second time around, I really wanted to go to Rio’, but then I realized in track and field I’m still young, so I’m definitely looking forward to 2020, which will be in Tokyo.”

Love has remained resilient on her mission, maintaining that same hunger she employed in her career as a Racer. So when Love received the call to head to the Penn Relays as part of Team USA, she jumped at the opportunity.

“I walked back into my room and just started crying and was like ‘This is really happening’,” Love said. “It’s one of those things like you hear it, but then you’re like ‘Wait, is Team USA really calling for me?’”

Track and field Head Coach Jenny Swieton coached Love while she was at Murray State. Swieton said Love’s perseverance serves as an inspiration to her student-athletes.

“It’s been a while since she was in the trials, four years since she graduated, but she just didn’t give up and she kept fighting and now it’s finally paying off,” Swieton said. “I think she’s so relatable now because she has like a little bit of a slump and now she’s coming back out of it, and she just shows people not to give up.”

Swieton said Love’s track record can benefit Murray State’s program on the recruiting trail. She said many players believe they have to attend a larger, Power Five conference in order to make it professionally, but Love’s story serves as a testimony that anything is possible for those who put in the work.

“They see the Power Five schools, and they think you have to go to one of those schools to be big time or be super successful and that’s just not true,” Swieton said. “I think she just kind of showed people that regardless of what type of school you want to attend or you decide to go to, you can be successful no matter where it is.”

Four years after graduating, Love said she is indebted to Murray State and to Swieton for the impact she has had in teaching her to push past her boundaries.

“Years later, I am so thankful to God that I chose Murray State,” Love said. “At first I was not sure, but when she [Swieton] came in, she just made a huge impact on my life and she pushed me past the limit.”

She also credited Assistant Coach Adam Kiesler for helping her develop as a player.

“I think he [Kiesler] knew exactly how to push me to be a better athlete and better person on and off the track,” Love said. “He kind of threw me out there so I could be a leader to the other girls on the team. He made me tough.”

Love is looking ahead to the next phase of her career and isn’t putting any limitation on what she can achieve.

“I’m not going to lie, I’m striving to be the fastest woman in the world,” Love said. “When I speak to kids at elementary schools and I mentor these young females I always tell them ‘Look, whatever you do don’t just do it, try to be the best at it.’ If I’m going to really do this track thing and make it work I want to be the fastest woman in the world.”

As Love prepares to train to compete in the biennial IAAF World Championships in London later in the year, she reflected back on her track and field campaign and the resiliency it took to get where she is today.

“It’s definitely been a journey, and with track, you definitely have to be determined and be committed and just really have a passion for it because three years is a long time,” Love said. “And just knowing deep down that I was going to make the team one day is what kept me going and kept me motivated.”