Erica Twiss is restless. It’s the way she’s always been.
“I’m very active,” the Kansas State senior said this week. “I don’t like sitting around for a long time.”
Since she was a kid, Twiss has always wanted to challenge herself, be it mentally or physically. This restlessness drove Twiss to compete in gymnastics at a young age and now to an elite level of track and field.
This inability to stop moving is perfect for a combined-events athlete where Twiss stars for the Wildcats — the pentathlon in the winter and the heptathlon in the spring.
“I was thinking about doing an open 400 (meters) or an open 100 and I just think it would be boring, even though it’s only 100,” Twiss said. “There’s nothing to jump over.”
Her teammate, Sarah Kolmer, agrees.
“She does have as good a motor as anyone,” Kolmer said. “She doesn’t get tired of competing.”
Twiss — from Carrollton, Texas — came to K-State with a body ravaged by stress fractures, according to head coach Cliff Rovelto. These stress fractures limited her training.
“I never thought I would end up where I am right now,” Twiss said. “It’s exciting to see where I will end up on this path that I am on.”
It’s been a long path for the heralded senior. Kolmer said Twiss’ ability to overcome challenges has served as a motivation for her and her teammates.
“It’s unique to see because I’ve seen how good she is in practice,” Kolmer said. “As of late, it’s correlating in to competition where she’s really excelling.
“I think that’s the main difference. She’s really seeing that potential correlate in to big numbers. I feel like everyone all along has known that she’s kind of itching to do those kinds of things.”
So far this season, Twiss has set personal bests in every meet she’s competed in. Because of her injury issues, Twiss redshirted the 2011 indoor season. It was tough for Twiss to not push her body to the limits.
Any great athlete, according to Rovelto, wants to push him or herself harder and harder, no matter what.
“If I have to motivate you to get better,” Rovelto said, “you probably aren’t going to be very good.”
Rovelto never had to push Twiss, who will compete this weekend in the K-State Open indoor meet at Ahearn Field House.
Instead, the longtime K-State coach helped Twiss tone it down so she wouldn’t aggravate any previous injuries.
“I’ve had a lot of stress fractures, so injury wise, he’s had to pull the reins on me a little bit to make sure I’m not over-working myself,” Twiss said. “But other than that, he’s pretty good at staying behind me and motivating me to keep going forward.”
But Twiss’s least favorite words are slow down.
“I don’t like it,” she said. “I don’t really respond well to it, but I know that it’s in my best interest. And (Rovelto) does know what he’s talking about. I know that he’s right, but it can be hard.
“Any athlete would agree that it’s hard to stop doing what you love even if you’re hurting or something’s wrong. But in the end you know it’s worth it.”
This process has made Twiss admittedly much smarter when it comes to her training. Now healthier than when she first entered the program, Twiss is able to train at the level she’s always intended, too.
When Twiss was younger, she was involved in highly competitive gymnastics. But after years of intense training, Twiss realized she was not in love with the sport anymore.
She wasn’t tired of the training, though, just gymnastics. Twiss started her search for the next sport.
“When I was in gymnastics, whenever we did conditioning, we did running conditioning and I actually kind of liked it,” Twiss said. “So when I quit gymnastics I was thinking of what other sports I could do and I figured since I enjoyed running, which is kind of weird, I would try it what happened and it ended up being a pretty good fit.”
During her high school track career, Twiss won 10 state championships. She swept the long jump three straight seasons.
Twiss’ leadership and personality has served as a nice buffer for Kolmer, who rooms with Twiss during meets.
Rovelto said Kolmer and Twiss’ partnership is an important facet of training.
In prior years, Twiss was in Kolmer’s position. She was situated behind 2011 NCAA champion Ryann Krais, who served as an inspiration for Twiss.
“I think she has a good point of view,” Kolmer said. “She’s like, ‘you know, it’s taken me this long for me to get where I am, so just be patient,’ and I think that has always been helpful.
“I’m sure she’s been in the position where Ryann was telling her the same thing — that whole reassurance of ‘just be patient and it will come along. Just keep working.’”
Twiss hopes to follow in Krais’ footsteps by taking those next steps as she heads into the upcoming Big 12 Indoor Championships.
“My most prominent goal is winning the Big 12 Championship in the pentathlon indoors and qualifying for nationals and becoming an All-American.”
Twiss plans to continue training after she graduates and hopes to pursue a career in teaching.
“It’s a good career to have if I want to keep training,” the elementary education major said. “I can work through the day and train in the afternoon. I can section those off. But I still have a year, so I haven’t really thought about it.”
But Twiss does enjoy being around children, and even volunteers at a local gymnastics facility in Manhattan when she has the time.
“After helping out in different classrooms and with different kids, I noticed that was where I felt like my heart was,” Twiss said. “My calling was to be in a classroom. I’m happy with my decision, and I haven’t wanted to change back (to Kinesiology).”