Former Distance Standout Praught Signs Contract with Nike
Dec. 13, 2012
NORMAL, Ill. - Former Illinois State distance runner Aisha Praught signed her first professional contract last week, as she enters her post-collegiate career running for the Oregon Track Club (OTC) Elite in Eugene, Ore. The deal came after six months of negotiations between Nike and agent Chris Layne of Total Sports U.S.
Praught couldn't have been more excited about inking her first professional deal.
"It was an exciting time," Praught said. "This was six months in the making and something I have dreamt about for a long time. After so many years of hard work, it is an amazing feeling to know that I have some sort of guarantee for the next couple years."
Her career began shortly after ending a senior campaign that included a NCAA Division I Runner-up performance in the mile (4:39.85), as well as a 9:51.30 performance in the 3,000-meter steeplechase at the prestigious Mt. SAC Relays, where she finished as the top-collegiate student-athlete. She was also instrumental in the women's cross country team winning its first Valley title in 2011. The All-American ended her career at Illinois State at the 2012 U.S. Olympic Track & Field Team Trials, finishing 16th in the steeplechase with a time of 9:55.78.
It was the trip to Eugene, Ore., for the Olympic Trials that really opened the door for Praught, as she had a chance to see what the city had to offer training wise and sit down and meet with now-coach Mark Rowland of OTC Elite.
"Life is completely different now," Praught said. "Running in school was very stressful, having to worry about class, tests and projects, but now, my life revolves around running and that's it. Right now I am running twice a day, four-to-five days a week, taking advantage of all the resources available to me. It is like training camp for cross country, but with a lot of time devoted to recovery."
However, Praught had to prove herself over the summer before a deal could be complete. With the guidance of Layne, who represents track stand-outs Nick Symmonds (two-time USA Olympian and four-time USA Outdoor Champion in the 800-meter run) and Carmelita Jeter (2012 Olympic Gold, Silver and Bronze Medalist in the 4X100-meter relay and the 100- and 200-meter dashes), Praught headed to Europe to compete in the Flanders Cup, before heading to Dublin, Ireland, to run the Morton Mile at the 2012 Morton Pre Games.
The Flanders Cup began Saturday, July 14, in Kortrijk, Belgium, with Praught running a 4:18.95 in the 1,500-meter run. The meet continued after a short jog over to Gent, Belgium, on July 18. Here, Praught ran the third-fastest time of her life in the 3,000-meter steeplechase, winning the event with a time of 9:56.18, the first of her professional career. The meet concluded in Ninove, Belgium, with Praught finishing seventh in the 1,500-meter run with a personal-best time of 4:16.06.
Praught's European circuit came to a close for the summer in Dublin, Ireland, as she competed in the 2012 Morton Pre Games, running in the Morton Mile. Known for her miler skills, Praught turned in a lifetime-best performance of 4:35.96, finishing eighth.
"I am literally living the dream," Praught said. "It is like I am still in college, but without the college. All I have to worry about is running, and now, I have the time to sit down and read a book for enjoyment if I want, or hang out with my teammates, it is definitely more relaxing."
Praught is the first Illinois State track & field student-athlete to turn professional, since long jumper JaRod Tobler did so in 2008.
Head track & field coach Elvis Forde knows how hard Praught has worked to get where she is at now.
"This deal shows how hard Praught has worked the last four years," Forde said. "She had aspirations to continue running, and she found herself a place where she can take advantage of it, and I believe she can make it. She made a commitment with us early on to train hard, and I know she will continue that same mentality wherever she is."
Head cross country coach Jeff Bovee agrees that Praught's success will continue at the next level.
"Aisha has the potential to run at the national level and even make a world team," Bovee said. "With the improvements she made over her last year at Illinois State and starting to figure out racing and training tactics, the sky is the limit for her. She is a student of the sport and loves everything about running and that has helped her get to where she today."
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