A star everyone saw coming: Olivia Howell’s stellar career continues through third season


Photo Courtesy of Illini Athletics

Junior distance runner Olivia Howell runs during the Indoor Big Ten Championship on Feb. 29, 2020. Howell discusses her passion for running as a child to achieving many of her planned goals at Illinois.

By Ben Fader, Staff Writer

No athlete on the Illinois track & field team has impacted the program more than junior Olivia Howell in the last two years, and she shows no signs of slowing down. From a young age, Howell knew running was her thing.

“When I was a kid, I played basketball and softball, but my favorite part was all the running around,” Howell said.

In seventh grade, she transitioned to running and never looked back, picking up both track and cross country in high school. Howell began receiving letters in the mail in just her first year of high school to compete at the collegiate level, something nobody in her family had done prior.

With these offers comes a difficult choice, and Howell was good enough to compete at some great schools. Following up three state championships in high school, four team MVP awards and plenty of district awards, it was time to take her talents to the next level. After her visit to Illinois, her choice was made much easier.

“The team culture here was amazing, and I fell in love with the team when I came to visit,” Howell said.

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Howell also mentioned cross country coach Sarah Haveman as a significant factor in pulling her to Illinois.

Like every freshman athlete, Howell had big dreams and goals. She has already accomplished most of what she came to Illinois to achieve, despite not even being done with her junior year.

“I was definitely surprised to have completed so many things this early,” Howell said. “But I am really excited about it and want to work even more.”

Howell has already added a top-25 finish in cross country regionals, three Big Ten mile championships, three first-team Big Ten awards, one second team All-American and one first team All-American.

Even with all the accolades she has earned so far, Howell is still very hungry, “obviously, first place at NCAA’s is the goal.”

Being a Division I athlete is a difficult life, and a lot of work must be put in, especially to achieve the results she has.

“I promise I do have breaks, though,” Howell said with a laugh.

Much of her breaks still involve the team, whether it’s going out to eat or just hanging out.

“I also really love painting and drawing,” said Howell. “I am a studio art major. So whenever I get time off from running, I go to my studio and work on projects or just paint for myself.”

The painting may have to stay a hobby for now because Howell is confident in her running skills and plans to continue competing after her collegiate career.

“I definitely plan on going pro and hopefully making it into the Olympics one day,” Howell said. “That is my dream.”



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