Former UWA runner qualifies for Olympic Marathon Trials

rp_primary_Running_trackFormer UWA runner Polina (Babkina) Carlson recently earned her status as a 2016 Olympic Marathon Trials Qualifier. UWA Sports Information caught up with her to talk about her career and life after leaving UWA with her Bachelor’s Degree.

Carlson transferred to West Alabama from UNC-Pembroke to play tennis. UWA coach Glen Fanelli noticed that she outran everyone in running drills and encouraged her to work out with the cross country team to “stay in shape” for tennis. Little did either of them know that Carlson would have a successful career in distance running, and eventually, give up tennis in order to focus solely on running.

While competing at UWA, Polina set the 5000-meter school records. By 2011, she broke her own school record at the NCAA South Regional once again, after winning the Gulf South Conference Championship, the first ever to do so in school history.

With her bachelor’s degree from UWA in hand and a season of eligibility remaining, she enrolled at Hawaii Pacific University to pursue a Master’s Degree in Communications. She made immediate impacts on both the PacWest Conference and the West Regional running scene by finishing second at the PacWest Championship and capturing All-Region honors.
Her accomplishments include first in the 2013 Xterra 1/2 Marathon World Championships, fifth in the 2013 Honolulu Marathon, and first in 2014 Great Aloha Run. In December,of 2014, she qualified to run in the 2016 Olympic Marathon Trials by placing sixth at California International Marathon in Sacramento, California with a time of 2:35:41.,

She resides and trains in Hawaii and believes that with God by her side nothing is impossible.

Carlson recently participated in an Q&A with UWA Sports Information. Following is that exchange:

Talk about your time at UWA, coming here to be a tennis player and ending up a conference champion in cross-country.
“The switch from tennis to cross-country was very unexpected! While I was a member of the University of West Alabama tennis team, we used to do a lot of conditioning exercises off the court. One such exercise was running a two-mile loop to develop endurance for long matches. It was there that my tennis coach noticed that I was running faster than the members of the men’s tennis team, so he encouraged me to work out with the cross-country team to simply “stay in shape” for tennis. It quickly became obvious to me that I was suited to running after I started improving and then winning the Conference Championship title during my senior year in UWA. I kept participating in two sports, but it wasn’t easy to do both, so I had to make a hard choice to give up tennis in order to focus solely on running.”

What gave you the initiative to give distance running a shot while you were at UWA?
My tennis coach, Glen Fanelli, was the one who first noticed that I had a special talent in running., I was very surprised when he approached me saying that I might be the fastest girl at the UWA campus. Though I didn’t know much about cross-country and had never raced before, I was curious to try. So I decided to show up to one of the cross-country practices, and a few weeks later I,realized that my tennis coach was right. He was the first to notice my gift in running, and I’m still very thankful to him for his part in helping me discover my passion, which has led me to a decision to go pro and sign with Brooks after finishing college.”

Talk a little but about how you ended up in Livingston all the way from Russia.
I wanted to obtain a good education and to be able to compete in sports at the same time., Sports have always been one of my top priorities; so by coming to Livingston I was able to continue to train and compete while working towards my degree. Choosing a small town school was a great decision for me,,because I was able to train and focus on sports without having many distractions.”

Talk about your time after graduating from UWA and your decision to run an additional college season. Did that affect your decision to compete on a larger scale?
Well, I still had one more year of eligibility left, so I decided to pursue my master’s degree and contacted the cross-country coach at Hawaii Pacific University. Before I accepted the scholarship offer, I had never been to Hawaii, but the idea about moving to a warm and tropical place seemed so right at that moment, so I accepted the offer and competed for HPU while working on my master’s degree.

“The island of Oahu has some major road races, so after I finished my last cross-country season, I signed up for the XTERRA World Championship Trail half-marathon and the Honolulu Marathon. Both races went great, and the experience made me feel like I belonged to the world of distance running. Those two races really showed me that I had bigger potential to continue training and competing on a large scale.”

Tell us about qualifying for the Olympic Trials. Talk about that journey and what happens next as well.
I qualified for the trials at 2014 Grandma’s Marathon when I got the “B” Olympic Trials standard, so then my next goal was to run under the “A” standard at the California International Marathon. Qualifying for the Olympic Trials in a marathon has been a goal I’ve been working towards for the last two years since I got into distance running. The journey had some bumps and turns, but I’ve learned to enjoy the experience, embrace the pressure and stay positive. My plan is to continue working on lowering my times, develop more speed and keep trusting God.”

What are your realistic Olympic goals?
Since I’ve already achieved the goal of making the Olympic Trials, my next step is to make the 2016 Olympic Team.”

What drives you as a person?
I’m inspired when I hear other runner’s stories of struggle and success. I’m inspired to keep running when I hear the stories about people overcoming serious medical issues, or those with a desire to run but are not physically capable of running. It makes me be more appreciative in life and grateful for all I have.”

What drives you as an elite athlete?
I’m passionate about what I do, and I intend to find out how far I can go. I still believe I am far from realizing my potential. I believe that God gave me a great talent, and I want to make the most out of it. Also, to give my all in something that I love is very rewarding.”

Talk a little about the Xterra and all your other recent wins.
I’m the winner of 2013 XTERRA World Championship Half-Marathon and an Olympic Trials Marathon qualifier. My recent victories include: 1st place at the 2013 XTERRA Half-Marathon World Championships, First female at the 2013 Kona Marathon, First USA female at 2013 Honolulu Marathon. In December 2014, I reached the Olympic Qualifying “A” Standard at the 2014 California International Marathon.”

If you could pass along some advice to our current student-athletes at UWA, what would it be?
“In whatever you do, don’t limit yourself. When you train and compete, do it with your whole heart, so you won’t have any regrets knowing you’ve done all you could. Be positive and try to enjoy the journey rather than just focusing on results.”