News: Olympian's family grateful for faith & support

August 5, 2021

Schweitzer family

 By Kelly Mescher Collins

In 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 once again.

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.

Coaches were creative, Kathy said, making use of the newfound time by implementing drills and competitions while continually challenging them to be their best. “That just gave her a lot of confidence this year.”

There were real fears it could all come to a screeching halt even in the days leading up to the opening ceremony when news spread that athletes were eliminated from competition due to positive COVID tests.

“I was always praying that the Olympics would still just happen,” Kathy said.      

Due to COVID-19 concerns, family and friends were given the green light to attend the trials in Oregon at the last minute.

“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.”

Barriers included last year’s postponement of the Olympics and concerns of elimination by positive COVID test. But Schweizer also lost 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.  

“She bore through [the challenges] and now she’s representing the USA,” Kathy said. “It’s thrilling and so exciting and kind of amazing with all of the things that have happened. I hope she can make it again. It sounds like she’s having a great experience.”

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.”

Karissa placed 11th in the women’s 5,000 meter, running toe to toe with multiple women breaking world records.

“It’s just so exciting,” Kathy added.         

Due to COVID restrictions, athletes were not allowed to arrive at Olympic Village until five days before competition, forcing her to miss the opening ceremony.

Karissa and her teammates spent several days in Hawaii before travelling to Japan in order to get acclimated to the heat, humidity and an incremental time zone adjustment.

Their faith has gotten the family through all of the trying times. And 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.”