Being the first at something is difficult. Being the first in the sport of track and field at the University of Kansas is darn near impossible. With the history of elite athletes coming through Lawrence and running on the track at historic Memorial Stadium, it takes a special athlete to do something no one has ever done. But Kristi Kloster of Lenexa, Kansas did just that in the spring of 1996.
On March 10, 1996 at the NCAA track and field championships in Indianapolis, Kristi Kloster became the first female track and field athlete in the history of the University of Kansas to become an NCAA champion*. Kloster won the 800-meter race by finishing in a school record time of 2:04.91. But she nearly had to settle for second place. Dawn Williams of Arkansas-Little Rock was initially declared the winner until the officials in Indianapolis went to the videotape. The photo finish was so close that to the naked eye, it appeared that Kloster had finished second, but upon further review, the win was given to Kloster, and in the process she made KU history.
*Back in 1978, KU star Shella Calmese won the 300-meter event, but women’s track wasn’t an NCAA sanctioned event. It was under the AIAW umbrella.
Kristi Kloster is special in another way. She suffers from Compartment Syndrome which can be described as an unhealthy and excessive amount of pressure in enclosed spaces within the body. It’s especially painful while running. This is an excerpt from Runner’s World: "Any exercise, but particularly running, increases the blood supply to the muscles of the lower legs. But if there's no room for expansion of the muscles, the area can't accommodate the increased blood volume. Ultimately the loss of oxygen from the altered blood supply produces pain, and the runner is forced to stop."
With all of this considered, it’s amazing that Kloster achieved all that she did. To go along with her indoor championship in 1996, she was a conference champion in 1992, 1994, and 1996. She was an All-American in 1994 and 1996. She was KU’s Scholar Athlete of the Year in 1996 and was named to the Academic All-America Team that season as well. Not bad for someone managing pain literally with every step she took.