It's long been Helen Giefer's goal to be a Division I distance runner, but first she had to convince herself she could get to that level.
"I kind of always dreamed of it when I was younger but I didn’t think I’d be good enough to get there,” Giefer said. “Then when I got to high school I was kind of surprised by the success I had as a distance runner."
After what the WaKeeney-Trego senior has accomplished in track and cross country over the last year, she began to feel confident that she indeed had what it takes to be a D-I runner.
And Kansas State University agreed.
Giefer signed a letter of intent to run cross country and track for the K-State beginning next fall.
“I just kept working at it and trying to get faster. I finally kind of broke through, I guess, last track season," she said. "I think I got into the Division I college times that they kind of look at.”
Not only did Giefer attain her goal, she also secured a spot at her ideal university.
“I’ve always kind of wanted to go there,” Giefer said. “My dad (Bernie Giefer) actually helped out with the team in the 80s. He wanted to run there, but when he was in college he went into the military so his eligibility expired. He wasn’t allowed to run there so he kind of helped out with the team. Also, it’s agricultural and I’m kind of looking into that. It’s pretty affordable and a lot of my family goes there. There’s a lot of reasons I like it.
“It's really amazing, just the feeling of knowing that I was able to, for one thing, be a Division I athlete and for another thing, at the school that I’ve always kind of dreamed of going to.”
Giefer capped off a tremendous junior track season last year with her first state championship, winning the Class 2A state title in the 3,200-meter run in Wichita while clocking a 11:13.24.
“I was starting to wonder if I was even capable of winning state because I always got so nervous and everything," Giefer said. "It builds so much confidence to finally be able to pull it off and win it and to have my PR of the season and best time ever there, instead of being so nervous that I ran a bad race. I was just really excited that I kind of pushed through.”
Giefer finished 17 seconds ahead of the defending state champ, Bennington's Halle Johnson, at state in the 3200 last year, completing her undefeated season in the event.
“I really worked on paces and tried to run really even paces and be prepared to do that,” Giefer said. “I think also just running better during the season than I ever had before really motivated me. I definitely was more relaxed.
“Instead of thinking, ‘Oh my gosh, oh my gosh, I’ve got to do well.’ I just kind of went in hoping to do the best that I could. Just run as hard as I could and do the best without worrying about it.”
That confidence carried into the cross country season for Giefer, who was unbeaten in every race last fall. She won the 2A state title in 19:30 in Wamego.
“I knew I was the leader in the field and that I had a better chance,” Giefer said. “I was just a lot more confident I think after I finally pulled it through in the track season.”
Giefer's accolades are extensive in both cross country and track and field. She won all but one cross country regular season race over her four years. Along with her state championship, she had two third-place finishes at state cross country and one sixth-place finish. She was the Mid-Continent League champion and regional champion four years in a row.
In track, she is undefeated in the regular season in the 3,200. She's a three-time MCL champion in the 3200 and also has an MCL title in 1,600. She was the Class 2A state runnerup in the 1,600 last year.
Giefer, who comes from a family of distance runners, said she enjoyed the recruiting process but is glad to have it behind her.
“The process was a little bit stressful because I’m always thinking that I want to make sure that I choose the best college," she said. "I don’t want to spend too much time and miss the opportunity with one of them. I’m really glad to get it squared away and all signed off.
“I had a lot of fun visiting K-State and just being able to see the team and everything was really nice. I kind of knew where I felt at home more. I think it was a kind of cool process. Don’t know if I’d want to do it again though."
Giefer will have one more go-round in high school track and is expecting big things in her senior season this spring.
“I’m just working really hard and focusing on speed work so I can try to bring down my mile time,” Giefer said. “I think it’s going to be a pretty good season. I’m pretty confident I think.”