PACIFIC COUNTY — It’d be an understatement to say Elsa Lindquist runs like the wind.
The 8-year-old has been speeding her way through local races, and will soon have the opportunity to run in a national race.
On Saturday, Nov. 16, Lindquist ran in the USATF Pacific Northwest Association Junior Olympic Championships in Seattle. She was the race’s youngest competitor, and one of the few runners who will move on to USATF’s Region 13 Junior Olympic Championship meet in Eugene on Saturday, Nov. 23.
If Lindquist qualifies at the Eugene race, she’ll go on to USATF’s national meet in December, which will be held in Madison, Wisconsin.
“We are excited to see the payoff after months of hard work,” said Melissa Nesbitt, Elsa’s mother. “She has a gift and we’re trying to harness it.”
Elsa’s dedication to running started when she was five years old.
“When I was little, I just did short, little sprints,” Elsa said. “When I was 5, I decided to do the mile.”
Elsa’s parents signed her up for an all-comers meet, a race where runners of all ages compete. She placed third, finishing behind two eighth grade boys known for track and field.
“We were like ‘What?’ because she was only in kindergarten,” Melissa said.
Elsa soon started going on runs with her stepdad, Jeff Nesbitt.
“Running with Elsa is really fun,” Jeff said. “She’s my favorite running partner.”
Almost immediately, Elsa started beating her run times.
“I started getting really into it. We would start with the mile but then slowly add two miles to see how I would like it; then three miles,” Elsa said. “We started a training routine, and I got really fast on the mile.”
Melissa and Jeff Nesbitt met each other while they both coached track. Elsa and her brother Sawyer, 11, would attend track meets with Melissa, before she and Jeff got married.
“I saw how the older kids ran. One girl ran really fast. I thought ‘I want to run that fast,’” Elsa said. “That’s what inspired me, watching other people. It just kind of clicked in and I started running.”
After Elsa turned 7 years old, she signed up for another all-ages race called TrackTown. The races are held throughout Oregon.
Elsa traveled with Daniel Quintana, an Ilwaco High School sophomore who won this year’s state cross-country race.
Quintana won the race, and Elsa placed 14th.
“Elsa decided she wanted to go on a podium like Daniel,” Melissa said.
Before she attended her next TrackTown meet, Elsa went on runs around Black Lake, and on runs with Jeff.
“So, small runs, but then I got good at those kinds of runs,” Elsa said.
Once she made it to more All-Comers races, Elsa was ready to go. She placed first and third.
Elsa soon started getting invites to races. She’s traveled to cities like Portland and Seattle for races.
Making the distance
Elsa transitioned to long-distance running after she turned 8.
“Sometimes it doesn’t even feel like I’m running,” Elsa said. “It doesn’t feel like flying but it doesn’t feel like you’re just running either. It’s like your legs just go numb, even though you know you’re running. Sometimes I’ll even look down to make sure I’m still running. It’s a good feeling, I love it.”
In October, she ran the Great Columbia Crossing, a 10K that brings hundreds of runners to the Astoria-Megler Bridge.
“That race is six miles and she’s 8, so we made her prove she could run that far before getting on the bridge,” Melissa said.
Before signing up for the race, Melissa and Elsa went on five-mile runs to test Elsa’s endurance.
“Once I ran five miles, we were pretty positive I could do it so we registered for the bridge run,” Elsa said.
The race was Elsa’s first 10K. She finished in 52 minutes and five seconds.
“That’s when we realized that something crazy is going on,” Melissa said. “They don’t chip-time 8 year olds, but she ran with my husband, who placed in the top 25 for 30 year old men. We knew there was something pretty special here.”
After the race, Elsa started getting invites to cross-country races. Races recruited her based on her race times, which are tracked through USATF.
Elsa next went to a race in Federal Way to see if it’d be worthwhile to register for the Nov. 16 race.
“Because we don’t live in the city, there’s not any clubs here,” Melissa said. “We have to commute longer for the same opportunities we’d have if we were in the city.”
Elsa placed 14th in the Federal Way race, which was a 3K.
“She was running with 9 and 10 year olds as an 8 year old. The girls are all in club teams so I felt like we were really far out of our element. She just runs with my husband or me,” Melissa said. “But then she placed 14th, and the top 15 podiumed. She’s in it.”
In early November, Elsa participated in the Fort Stevens Battle to the Pacific 5K, an all-ages race. She placed second behind Jeff, who got first place.
At the Nov. 16 race, Elsa ran the 3000-meter race. Because of USATF’s age policy, Elsa had to run alongside nine- and 10-year-olds. Only three girls who aren’t on a club team qualified for the Eugene race; Elsa was one of the three girls. She finished the race in 13 minutes and 44 seconds.
“I don’t want to leave a race feeling like I didn’t put 100 percent effort in it,” Elsa said.
Before Saturday’s race in Eugene, Elsa will continue training through after-school runs with family. When she hits the track Saturday, she’ll have her whole family cheering her on; Melissa, Jeff, Sawyer, and little sister Amelia.
“You can’t bet against Elsa. A person would be a fool so bet against her. She’s just so headstrong. She sets goals and reaches them,” Melissa said.
Editor's note: The original version of this story referred to Elsa as Elsa Nesbitt. This story has been corrected to include her legal name, Elsa Lindquist.