EUGENE, Oregon - Whereas Charles Dickens has made a name for himself through A Tale of Two Cities, Sam Nadel has made a name for herself through A Tale of Two Coasts. Although generations apart, the two stories share themes of sacrifice and transformation which serve as timeless reminders of what truly constitutes greatness. However, the difference between Charles and Sam is that while his story ends, much of her story is left unwritten. Sam's Tale of Two Coasts has taken her fans on an unpredictable journey that at times it seems even its author finds herself at a loss for words.
Growing up near New York City, on the suburbs of Long Island, Sam Nadel had developed an eclectic love of sports at a young age; the seasonal weather in the region meant that Sam could exchange ski boots for track spikes, softball pants for swimwear, and tennis balls for soccer balls. Not only could she do it, she did do it. However, it was not long before her passion for running grew too robust; a product of both natural ability and sound parental support.
"Growing up, my parents exposed me to multiple different sports," Sam said. "As I was doing track in middle school, my parents and the high school track coach saw that I had a talent and convinced me to try out for the high school team as an 8th grader."
8th grade served as the inflection point for Sam's running venture, a point after which success would grow exponentially.
"I would say that the people who have been the most influential in my running career are my parents, as they have unconditionally supported and encouraged me throughout my running endeavors since day one," Sam remarked. "They always make sure that I have what I need in order to run my best, help me to make decisions in the best interest of my running, and cheer me on at every competition."
With a strong foundational support system in place, Sam's 8th grade high school track season quickly progressed. Sam's performances improved with each race. The string of improvements led to a qualification to the New York State meet, which neither Sam's coach, Neal Levy, nor she had expected; it was a pleasant surprise that came with one last unexpected bit of astonishment and realization. At the state meet, she ran a 10:16 in the 3k; the achievement was nearly a fifty second improvement from the start of the season.
"It was then that I realized I had a talent and became excited to pursue running full-time to see how much more I could improve," Sam recollected.
Sam's success quickly outgrew Long Island's limits as well as New York State's greater borders. Her first notable achievement on the national stage came as early as freshman year. During her freshman indoor track season, Nadel broke the national freshman record in the 5k at the Nike Indoor Nationals held in Boston, Massachusetts. She crossed the finish line in a time of 17:15.38. As the chatter of Sam's name grew louder amongst the running community, so did the magnitude of her accolades.
"Samantha is the ultimate performer and running 17:15
as a freshman was the goal, however being able to achieve it, in that
environment is a credit to her overall excellence in the big moments," Coach Levy said of the race.
According to Sam, her "claim to fame" moment occurred during her junior season, when she won the Millrose Games High School Mile.
"Until that point, I had run fast times and placed high in competitive meets, but the Millrose Mile was really my "breakout" race as a prep distance runner," Sam said. "I think I definitely surprised some people in that race because I came into it as a huge underdog."
Although she may have been an "underdog" at the inception of high school running, Nadel eventually emerged as the front runner and a formidable force the remainder of her time sporting a North Shore singlet. Sam became a two-time Millrose Games Mile champion her senior year, as well as a New York State champion in cross-country and the New York State runner-up in the 3k.
The newfound notoriety did not change the way in which Sam approached her races, a mentality she has remained faithful to this day.
"I just try to approach races the same way that I would approach workouts, by managing my nerves, and staying focused and alert while in the race" Nadel said. "I usually run best when I'm relaxed before the race, so over the years I have been working on keeping pre-race nerves in check."
Nadel's high school success inevitably elicited the interest of the nation's highest caliber collegiate programs. But amongst the congestion of calls, email, letters, texts, and meetings, one institution stood atop the rest, a testament to its nickname, "The Hilltop."
"I chose Georgetown because I felt like it was the best opportunity for me at the time, both athletically as well as academically," Sam cited. "I really enjoyed my time there-I met some pretty amazing people, graduated with a high-quality degree, and still ran relatively well despite the injuries. I learned a lot about myself throughout those four years on all fronts-socially, academically, and athletically. If I could go back in time, I would make the exact same choice."
But unlike the four-year experience in high school, the four-year experience in college posed a hardship.
"The transition to collegiate competition was tough at first in terms of adjusting to completely different training techniques and racing at a much higher level of competition," Sam said. "There were also a myriad of injuries that I sustained in college, which were hard to experience at the time. However, in retrospect, the 'silver lining' of these injuries was that they made me into a tougher and more resilient competitor."
At times, a runners very own kryptonite can be his or her own self. For Sam, her resoluteness and fervor for running led her to try and excel at a higher level of competition, too quickly. Her body, specifically her hips, were not yet ready to respond to the limit Sam's mind wished to push them past.
"I think the main contributors to my injuries at Georgetown were hip weakness, doing too much training for what my body was able to handle, and not getting consistent body work (massages)," Sam recalled. "I got myself stuck in an injury cycle for two years--I never addressed these issues, because I was always focused on coming back as quickly as possible to compete at the championship meets."
Sam would do anything that she could to compete, even if it meant cross training for two hours a day, supplemented with a ten-minute training run, and then toeing the line for a race the very same week. Her disregard to address the root causes of her repeat injuries contributed to a perpetual cycle of injury.
Despite inconsistent health, Sam left a positive and lasting impression on the Georgetown program. She left the shores of the Potomac an ECAC champion (5000m), a Big East Champion (3000m and DMR), an NCAA T&F Qualifier, and an All-American (XC, 3000m, DMR).
Red-shirted while at Georgetown University, Sam graduated with a year of eligibility remaining across all three seasons. She also graduated with a void left unfulfilled. Her thirst for personal improvement remained unquenched; Nadel knew she had not fulfilled the potential she had once been on the trajectory towards achieving. It was during this period in time that Sam made the most monumental decision in her running career.
"I chose to transfer to Oregon because by the end of my senior year at Georgetown, I felt like it was simply just not working out for me running-wise," Nadel noted. "I knew in my heart that I did not want to give up on competitive running just yet, and I felt that the only way for me to run healthy was to go out of my comfort zone and try something completely different."
Rather than a story of a new beginning, Oregon was a story of reunion. As one would imagine, the historic tradition and allure behind Tracktown USA acts like a magnet, pulling the most herculean of harriers from all corners of the US and beyond. This meant that Sam was not the only east coast runner who had made the westward voyage. For the first time since high school, Sam was once again teammates with her running partner from North Shore High, Brianna Nerud.
"Brianna helped in convincing me to come to Oregon, and while I wouldn't say she was the "reason" per se that I came, she definitely helped me feel more secure in my decision to transfer," Nadel said about Nerud. "It was also nice to know someone when I would be going to a new school, especially someone who happened to be a high school teammate and a best friend for seventeen years."
It did not take long before the magic the two produced just several years earlier while on the east coast, was reproduced on the west coast.
"It has honestly been a dream year so far at Oregon," Sam stated.
And a dream year it has been for sure.
"My main goal coming into this year was to just have a year where I was able to have consistent, healthy training, with good race results being a bonus."
If "good race results" are a bonus, then Sam Nadel has won the lottery.
Only two seasons into her brief stint at Oregon, Sam has run personal bests across the distance spectrum: 19:58 in the 6k, 15:49 in the 5k, 9:05 in the 3k, 4:37 in the mile, and 4:18 in the 1500m.
"I feel so incredibly fortunate to have been able to stay healthy and run well since I've been here-this is the longest stretch of healthy training that I've had in college thus far, and I am so grateful for every minute of it."
Sam was not alone in her feelings of joy and elation. Her fellow Oregon Ducks' teammates showcased impressive feats as well. Instead of the Ducks being the hunted, the Ducks have played the role as the hunters. The teamwork of a roster full of high achievers resulted in not only a cross country national championship, but an indoor track and field national championship to boot.
"Having the opportunity to contribute to both cross-country and indoor track and field national championships has been such an incredible and humbling experience," Nadel exclaimed. "It's hard to describe in words the feeling of winning a national championship as a team. We knew what we were all capable of and really and truly believed that we could do something great that day, together."
While she may be at a loss for words, the story of Sam Nadel's A Tale of Two Coasts is not nearly finished. As she turns yet another page in her life story, the events of her past foreshadow even greater accomplishments to follow.