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BIRMINGHAM, Alabama - As a native of Wales, Elinor Kirk has been to the other Birmingham, the one in England.

And she knows how varied the two are.

"It's a bit different from here," said Kirk, a graduate student at UAB. "Not quite as humid."

Kirk is a distance runner on the Blazers track team. She's hoping that her training in Birmingham, Ala., will serve her well this week as she competes in 5K and 10K events at the NCAA Division I Men's and Women's Outdoor Track and Field Championships held Wednesday through Saturday in Eugene, Oregon.

Another Blazer,

Elinor Kirk and UAB assistant track and field coach Tony Houchin talk about her reaching out to the UAB about her continuing her career with the Blazers. She also talks about the difference between college sports here and in the United Kingdom. (Solomon Crenshaw Jr./screnshawjr@al.com)

"Hopefully in Eugene it will be a lot cooler so training in the heat will be good preparation for going out there," Kirk said. "It'll be a lot nicer out there for sure."

This is Kirk's second straight year to qualify for the national championships. She's hoping to fare better this time.

"The race didn't go as well as I wanted but I think just running with some great girls, seeing how it's all set up will be great preparation," she said. "I know what to expect this time 'round. It was a bit of the unknown. I think the pressure got to me a bit. It's such a big stage and it's the first time I had run in such a high caliber competition. I think this time around, I'll be a bit less nervous and a bit more prepared. I'll know what to expect."

She also benefits from having Tisher as a teammate and roommate.

"Neal is such a great girl," Kirk said. "She's always been relaxed before events so I think the fact that she is so relaxed helps me be a bit less nervous. We're a good team."

Kirk's journey to Birmingham, Ala., came about from an old relationship, when current UAB assistant track coach Tony Houchin was in Las Vegas.

"Tony recruited me as an undergrad at UNLV but at that point I was going to go to a university at home," she said. "After my degree was coming to an end at home, I was thinking I wasn't really ready to enter the real world. I got in touch with Tony to see if there were opportunities to come over as a grad student. That's how I ended up at UAB."

And she's become a stronger performer than she had been.

"If someone would have told me that two years down the road I'd competing at this level, I probably would have laughed and not really believed them," the runner said. "Sometimes when I think about it, it does blow my mind. It makes me really grateful to have the opportunity to come to UAB and train with a great group of girls and Tony is a great coach. I've had such a great time here and hopefully I'll end it well at nationals."

The grad student's initial focus is on the 10K, the first of her two events.

"I'll give it everything I've got in that one and then hopefully recover well in the day off," she said. "I'll see what I have left for the 5K. Whatever I've got left, I'll give in the 5K.

"I think there's quite a few girls doing the double. There will be quite a few girls who have the 10K in their legs."

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