By BURT ANGELI
IRON MOUNTAIN - Albion College track star Kristin Nelson credits her high school coach for playing a major role in her success.
Before reaching All-American status at Albion, she started out in track & field under the tutelage of Iron Mountain High School track coach Rex Terwilliger.
"Mr. T' has had a huge impact on my track career," Nelson said.
Nelson entered high school aiming to run hurdles, short sprints and, possibly, some relays.
"I started my freshman year doing these events, but Mr. T quickly realized that I had the potential to be successful in other events," she said. "He taught me long jump and had me run the 400 and 800 in addition to the hurdles."
During her four years, Terwilliger tested Nelson in the 100, 200, 400 and 800-meter runs along with the 800, 1600 and 3200 relays. She also competed in long jump, breaking the school record at 16-feet-10.
What? No triple jump or hurdles?
"We don't have triple jump in Michigan track events," said Terwilliger, now retired from coaching track. "If we had, I'm sure Kristin would have been very good at it.
"Kristin ran hurdles in junior high. We just needed her in other places."
Nelson, a four-year track performer with the Mountaineers, earned most valuable player her senior season.
"In addition to broadening the events I participated in and teaching me many technical things about track, his passion and dedication to the sport affected my attitude about it," Nelson said. "Every day at practice I saw someone who put so much time and energy into making the team and each athlete the best that they could be.
"This made me want to work hard and be the best that I could be for myself and for Mr. Terwilliger."
Nelson led the Mountaineers in the 2009 U.P. Track & Field Finals at Flivver Field. She closed her high school career with firsts in long jump (16-6.5) and 400 (1:01.22) and took third in the 200 (27.57).
"During my senior year of high school, Mr. T told me that I had the work ethic, passion and talent to be a successful college athlete if I decided to do so," said the daughter of Tom and Lisa Nelson. "I knew he truly meant these words, and I decided to continue my track career at Albion College."
Terwilliger said Nelson improved "because she worked hard to improve at every practice.
"Kristin is very athletic and you put that with good work habits you can't miss."
Nelson culminated a sterling four-year Albion track career with an appearance in last month's NCAA Division III Track & Field Championship. She competed in heptathlon.
Terwilliger offered advice prior to the final qualifying meet for the NCAA.
"Go out and have fun," she said of Terwilliger's phone call. "Do your best, but most importantly, have fun and enjoy your final time on the track."
She wound up fourth to gain a berth in the NCAA meet. The two-year Albion captain moved up eight spots on the final NCAA day to finish 12th and receive All-American honorable mention.
"She has a love for track and is a motivated athlete," Terwilliger noted.
Nelson holds school records in five events - long jump, triple jump, heptathlon, 100-meter hurdles and 400 dash. She also achieved the 2013 Michigan Intercollegiate Athletic Association's Field Athlete of the Year award.
"From the first day of practice my freshman year of high school, I never questioned anything he said," Nelson said. "I did what he told me to do. I followed his advice that day (at the NCAA qualifier) as well.
"Mr. T helped me realize how lucky and special each moment on the track was. In the final qualifying meet, I performed each event like it was my last. I was fortunate enough to qualify (for the national meet) and get one last chance to compete.
"Again, I took his advice to heart at the national meet."
Rex Terwilliger developed numerous athletes during his days coaching track & field and football. Kristin Nelson is grateful to have him as a coach.
"Mr. Terwilliger has played a big role in my track career by increasing my love for the sport, teaching me the technical skills, and helping me to appreciate every jump, race, or throw," she said.