Amanda Nelson and Keegan Day are more than excellent runners.
The Billings Skyview duo are each a member of the National Honor Society. Both Nelson and Day do not let their participation in cross country and track and field at Skyview get in the way of their studies. Both are seniors and have an impressive resume in the classroom. Nelson is carrying a cumulative 4.0 GPA and Day has an overall 3.77.
“It’s hard. It’s all about time management and priorities, especially last year. I had to focus on staying healthy and the stress was really bad,” Nelson said of juggling academics and athletics. “I had to focus on staying healthy and trust it would all get done.”
Carol Kuhns has been coaching in the Skyview cross country program since she became an assistant in 1996. The longtime head coach is extremely proud of her runners.
“They are just two amazing young women,” Kuhns said. “They are what coaches talk about with hard work, commitment and dedication. Day in and day out, they nail it. You always know they will get the job done.”
Nelson and Day are alike in many ways. Both want to compete in cross country and track and field at the college level. Day would like to one day be a health and physical education teacher, while Nelson wants to become a nurse.
Mark Bolt is in his 10th year as an assistant cross country coach for the Falcons. The 1996 Skyview graduate will also enter his 10th season coaching the distance runners in track and field this spring. He said both Day and Nelson own two school records.
Day is the 800 meter run record holder in 2:16 and owns the school’s 1,600 meter run mark of 5:09. She was fourth and fifth at last year’s State AA meet respectively in those events.
Nelson holds the school’s 3,200 meter run record with a time of 11:21 and was seventh at the state meet last year in that event. Nelson’s 17:25 at the 7-on-7 cross country meet in Helena last week eclipsed her previous cross country school record of 17:44.
When Nelson and Day graduate this spring, Bolt will miss coaching them. He said the two have an awe-inspiring work ethic.
Bolt elaborated, saying, many kids are coachable but what separates Day and Nelson is their drive. When some athletes hit a plateau or a point in the season of struggle, they panic. Day and Nelson stick to the game plan and strive to achieve their goals.
“They are so easy to coach and are probably the most coachable kids I’ve had in the 10 years I’ve been here,” Bolt said. “They are coachable and have a desire to be successful and work hard and do whatever it takes to be successful.”
For her part, Day said what helps her reach new levels is working hard at practice.
“At practice I think to just get better and have my times be faster,” Day said. “Whatever you do in practice, you will do in your race.
“Practice is as important as a race. I take practice seriously.”
Day is in her fourth year running varsity cross country for the Falcons and is a two-time state placer. She was 13th at the state meet as a sophomore and 14th last year. Nelson started in the sport as a sophomore and placed 11th at the state meet as a junior.
When the terrific twosome both notched top 15 All-State honors last year, it marked a high point in Skyview girls cross country. In 2012, Kennedy Robbins (sixth) and Day were both state placers for Skyview, however, it isn’t often the Falcons have had two girls in the top 15 in the same year. Nelson gives Robbins, who is now running at the University of Mary, credit for some of the success she and Day have achieved. Nelson also hopes the Falcons program continues to build.
“She (Robbins) got us going and had a passion for running and training,” Nelson said. “I hope Keegan and I leave that.”
Both runners are preparing for the state meet Oct. 25 at Bill Roberts Golf Course in Helena. Day said she will work to make sure she is mentally and physically ready, eat well and stay hydrated with a goal of finishing in the top 10. Nelson said she, too, hopes to finish in the top 10, but her “ultimate goal” is a top-five performance.
Both runners agreed they have developed a special bond through running. It also helps to have someone keeping pace with you in the heat, rain, wind, and even snow.
“It helps a lot. I don’t know what I’d do if it was just one of us and not the other,” Day said. “It helps so much. We both push and pull each other. Without the other it would be a lot different.”
The main reason for their success is their love of the sport. Nelson said running is a passion of hers, helping her both deal with stress and meeting new people, plus quenches her desire for competition. Day has a hard time deciding if she likes cross country or track and field better, but it’s clear she has fun in each discipline.
With their dedication, it’s easy to see why Nelson and Day succeed in their chosen sport and in the classroom.
“Boys eat, sleep and drink basketball or football,” Kuhns said. “These two eat, sleep and drink running.”