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Salma Elbadra to represent Cowgirls at national championships

Jun. 6—Freshman Salma Elbadra will be the University of Wyoming's lone representative at this week's NCAA track and field national championships in Eugene, Oregon.

Elbadra is set to run the 1,500 meters after qualifying with a time of 4 minutes, 15.80 seconds at the West regional last month in Fayetteville, Arkansas.

For Elbadra, representing the Cowgirls is just the bow on top of an already historic season.

The Morocco product is the UW record-holder in the mile after running 4:35.02 at her first college race during the indoor season. Elbadra also holds school records in the 3,000 (indoor) at 9:23.93 and the 800 (outdoor) at 2:05.87.

Elbadra is second to former UW star Katelyn Mitchem in the school record books at 4:14.03 in the outdoor 1,500.

Her goals coming into the season were to set records in the mile during the indoor season, win the 1,500 during outdoor and qualify for the NCAA championships. Elbadra has already done all three.

"I wanted to do really good," Elbadra said. "(Track season) is much different from Morocco. This was my first experience in indoor."

Added UW distance coach Scott Dahlberg: "(Elbadra) is rare. The landscape of athletics is getting stronger. Times to qualify now versus five years ago are a lot faster. It's harder for athletes across the nation, but especially freshmen.

"It takes a couple years of development and maturity to handle the training and bigger races. So, she's very rare."

Having the success she's had at a young age hasn't gone over her head, but Elbadra admitted joining the Cowgirls with lofty expectations of herself. In Morocco, Elbadra was the No. 1-ranked female runner in the 1,500, according to Dahlberg.

"I came to the States for competition," Elbadra said. "It's big competition. In Morocco, I won something every year. I think around 200 different times.

"I like the 1,500 the best because of the distance. The 800 was tricky, because it was my first time (in indoor track)."

Added Dahlberg: "She broke (the 800) during a training week. We were using that event as part of training, and she posted her best time yet. In indoor, she was also second in the 3K after not being sure about it. We've talked about running the 5K next year."

Both Elbadra and Dahlberg knew after a few practices that the 800 record would soon belong to her. The result came through a combination of her time to start the year and UW's intense training program.

"Just three boys and one girl from Morocco qualified (for the NCAA championships)," Elbadra said. "(My family back home) is excited, because I'm just a freshman."

In the 1,500, Elbadra likes to stick near the front of the pack, using the leader to pace herself before making a final move. She watches how the leaders run, and makes adjustments based off of how they look.

"(Elbadra) has a good close," Dahlberg said. "She keeps them in her sights, and finishes fast. Right now, winning middle-distance events is a blend of tremendous speed and good aerobic capacity.

"There are a lot of athletes that have one, but not a combination. Her anaerobic capacity is already very good. She has the mentality of a very fierce competitor and puts herself in the mix, regardless of who she's racing."

Elbadra's success in college has come after an eventful welcome to the United States. She relocated from the warmth of Inezgane, Morocco, to Laramie in the heart of winter in January 2023.

Then just 19 years old, the Arabic-speaking Elbadra lost her luggage during her flight from Inezgane to Canada. Once she arrived in Wyoming, she was immediately greeted by snow and had to be driven to Walmart by teammates to stock up on living essentials.

"In my country, it never snows," Elbadra said. "It's so snowy and cold in Wyoming."

Elbadra also had to adjust to the elevation of running at 7,220 feet. But out of all the changes in her life, adapting to the food in the United States has been her biggest obstacle.

Before each meet, Elbadra's routine includes a trip to Starbucks. The freshman enjoys two shots of espresso, with no ice.

It'd be easy to assume recruiting Elbadra from north Africa was a challenge, but she convinced her parents before Dahlberg ever had to.

UW appeared on her radar through a series of coaching connections. Elbadra's old coach was from Egypt, and previously coached UW teammate Kareem Mersal.

Once in Laramie, it took time for Elbadra to get medically cleared for competition. As a result, she had to do the first few runs of her UW career alone.

Prior to competing at the Potts Invite at University of Colorado last December, Dahlberg had only seen Elbadra take part in a "tune-up" workout. He could tell from that workout that Elbadra was fast, and her first race left the impression that big things were possible.

"That's where she won the mile in her first race," Dahlberg said. "It was a big shock, in a lot of ways, against good competition. She had only been at altitude for a week, and we were in the middle of a negative-10 degree cold snap.

"She ran with composure, and we all looked at each other like, 'All right, we know what's possible.'"

Going up against the best will bring out the fiercest part of Elbadra's competitiveness. Dahlberg has already seen how she turns into a different person when it's time to compete.

"(Elbadra) gets a certain focus, and shows that resiliency and determination," Dahlberg said.

There has only been one time this season where Elbadra ran a slower-than-expected time. Dahlberg believes the result came due to a lack of communication between the two.

"That was a growing pain for all of us," Dahlberg said. "We worked through it, and came out really good."

The improved communication had led to an increase in Elbadra's trust in her coach. They agree that more trust in the process has been the biggest cause for constant improvements.

"Figuring out words that we can both use has helped," Dahlberg said. "Over the last five to six months, improved communication has probably been her biggest advantage."

Dahlberg has done his best to prepare Elbadra for the magnitude of the national championships. The stage will feel bigger, but the race remains the same.

The 1,500 semifinals are slated to start at 6:46 p.m. Thursday on ESPN2. The finals are scheduled for 3:41 p.m. Saturday.

"Two things to remember are to run your race and do what you've been doing to this point," Dahlberg said. "There's nothing to lose. Being young, take everything in. But also, you aren't going just to participate. Do your best and win."

Austin Edmonds covers Laramie High, University of Wyoming and community athletics for WyoSports. He can be reached at aedmonds@wyosports.net. Follow him on X at @_austinedmonds.