Discover the Difference: Family thankful for support of their Olympian

by Kelly Mescher Collins | August 17, 2021

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nullIn the months, weeks and days leading up to the Olympics in Tokyo this summer, all sorts of variables loomed, potentially snuffing out Dowling Catholic High School alumna Karissa Schweizer’s opportunity to compete there.

After the Olympics were postponed from 2020 to 2021 due to COVID-19, all possibilities seemed to be on the table.

“I was more disappointed for her,” said Karissa’s mother, Kathy, a longtime member of St. Pius X Parish in Urbandale. “She was so ready and focused and then everything got shut down.”

But Schweizer and the rest of her team at the Bowerman Track Club – an American training group for professional runners sponsored by Nike and based in Portland, Oregon – kept focusing on their next step.

It paid off. Karissa competed in Tokyo in the 5,000-meter race, coming in 11th, and in the 10,000-meter race, coming in 12th.

“I think she did wonderfully,” said her grandfather, Frank Schweizer. “Just to get there to run against the absolute best in the world is just so hard. We’re very proud of her.”

Pam and Lou Flori, of St. Francis Parish in West Des Moines, were at the 

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 pre-dawn gathering on Court Avenue in Des Moines on Aug. 7 to watch Karissa race on a jumbo-tron TV. Their son, Jack, runs cross-country at Dowling Catholic. 

The running history of the Schweizer family is motivational and created a passion for running for Jack, they said.

 Dowling Catholic runner Tyler Schweizer had a 13-mile run ahead of him that day. The senior watched his cousin race before he began his run.

“To have a cousin in the Olympics, it’s crazy to see her get to this point,” he said.  

Dowling Catholic runner and Holy Trinity parishioner Gabe Shaw, a junior, said Karissa is a winner to him.

 “Running in Tokyo today is an achievement in and of itself,” he said. 

Early on, there were concerns that the Olympics this year would again be postponed due to the pandemic, or athletes would test positive for COVID-19.

“I was always praying that the Olympics would still just happen,” Kathy said. “I was even mentally preparing myself [for the Olympics to be cancelled],” Kathy continued. “So for her to fight through all of the barriers, I kind of see her as Wonder Woman.”

Another challenge for Karissa was losing Bowerman Track Club teammate, training partner and friend – fellow Iowan Shelby Houlihan – who was banned from track and field events for four years after testing positive for an anabolic steroid. (Houlihan has gone on record stating she believes the steroid came from pork she consumed hours before her drug test and continues to appeal her case.)

“It’s been a tough year on Karissa,” said her father, Mike. “She knew about the [Shelby’s appeals to compete] for months. This came out a week before the trials and then the coaches were distracted. It was a tough couple of weeks. That’s one of her main training partners.”

Mike and Kathy agree it has been thrilling to see their daughter compete in the Olympics, albeit on a television screen. The love and support from the community has been extraordinary.  

They texted back and forth with Karissa, though the 14-hour time difference made it challenging, Mike and Kathy said. One was just starting their day while the other was going to bed.

In the past, they always travelled to cheer on and see Karissa (and their two other children), but they accepted that watching her on television, along with millions of other people around the world, was the only way to see her compete.

“I didn’t realize how nervous we’d be,” Kathy said.

“I try not to think about it,” Mike said. “You just want the best for her and want her to be happy.”

Their faith has gotten the family through all of the trying times. They offer prayers of thanksgiving to God for the special gifts he has given Karissa.

Friends and family have also provided much needed support and encouragement. Many of their friends and community are through the Catholic church and schools.

“If you would have been at [the 5K watch party] at Wellman’s, it was almost all St. Pius and Dowling people,” Mike said. “You have a great group of people – and they were there. It was a great celebration. And that’s one thing that I really appreciate about the church and school and Dowling Catholic community is really that togetherness and the support.”