Around Sharp Corners

Windsor’s Two-Time Olympic
Runner Melissa Bishop-Nriagu

Story by Michael Seguin
Photography by Milos Savic

For two-time Olympian 800-metre runner Melissa Bishop-Nriagu, the finish line is never at the end of the track. It lingers just beyond your reach, right past your body’s limits. 

“It’s really about how comfortable you can be being uncomfortable,” Melissa explains. “It’s all about pushing your body out of its limits to achieve these amazing results. To achieve these goals. And part of that is giving yourself permission to comfortably ease out of your comfort zone every single day. That way, when you line up on the track at the Olympics, you are primed and ready to race at your fastest. There is a feeling of, ‘I have nothing left to do but show off all of the hard work that I’ve done.’”

That said, Melissa admits that level of performance always comes with a price.

“Every event hurts,” Melissa stresses. “During the last hundred meters of any race, you feel like you can’t move anymore. That you’re dragging bricks behind you. We have a lot of different terms for it. The monkey jumped on your back. You hit a wall. All this lactic acid just overcomes you and you need to grit your teeth and fight through it. You can only train your system, your body, so far before it says, ‘Stop! Stop! Stop!’ You just have to keep running through it.”

Melissa describes herself as being a sporty kid from a sporty family.

“I first started running in the fourth grade,” Melissa recalls. “I tried out for the track team during lunch hour. I ran a couple laps on the schoolyard and qualified. I just loved it right from the get-go! I joined my first track club four or five years later.”

However, Melissa admits that her first love was not an entirely monogamous one.

“I was a multisport athlete,” Melissa states. “I didn’t decide to focus on running until university. Prior to that, I played competitive hockey, volleyball and basketball. I was very, very busy. My family was on the road a lot.”

Eventually, running popped the proverbial question.

“I think deciding to focus in on running was the result of two things,” Melissa explains. “I had a lot of success with running early on. And that always goes hand-in-hand with loving something. But I also loved team sports. I loved hockey right up until the very end. I played it as long as I could. However, towards the end of high school, I decided to commit to running. I thought I would have a better chance of getting a full scholarship with it. So, by my second semester grade 12, I was only running track and field.”

Melissa went on to obtain her Bachelor of Human Kinetics and Education at the University of Windsor, where she also met her husband, Osi. She then went on to make her first Olympic team shortly after graduating in 2011.

Melissa’s career has been characterized by an intense drive and an unflappable will to succeed. She has competed in two Olympic Games and even set several national

“I broke my first Canadian record of 2015 at the World Athletics Championships in China,” Melissa states. “1:57.01. It’s currently still standing.”

However, as Melissa admits, sometimes even victory can sting.

“I finished fourth in Rio at the 2016 Summer Olympics,” Melissa explains. “At the time, it was a very emotional experience. At the time, I was expecting—and preparing—for the podium. But I just missed it. I came in fourth—and not by a lot. In the moment, that was hard. And in the years after that, I struggled with that. But now that we’re five years away from that, I can say that that’s one of my biggest achievements.”

And Melissa, like any athlete, has worked incredibly hard for her achievements. She has overcome a great deal of challenges in order to reach her peak, including a number of injuries.

“Injuries have been big ones to overcome,” Melissa admits. “Because they never arrive at the right time. Thankfully, I have been very fortunate to be injury free for most of my career. My biggest one was in 2015 when I suffered two major stress fractures back-to-back. Prior to that, I had never been injured. I had to change my training regimen to accommodate for those challenges.”

Melissa ended up recovering and coming back strong, winning a gold medal at the Pan American Games and a silver medal at the World Athletics Championships that same year.

“It was a significant year for me,” Melissa explains. “It solidified to me that you can do this through injury. You can stay fit on bike, in a pool and on elliptical! Because essentially being injured means I can’t do my job. I can’t run every day. And running is my job. So, you have to find ways to get the same amount of work done. I compensated by crosstraining. It still always hard, because again, it’s never at the right time. It’s your body telling you it needs a break. But there are ways of working around those sharp corners.”

And now, Melissa is currently gearing up for what she hopes will be her third Olympic Games.

On May 2nd, at the Chula Vista high performance meet in California, Melissa ran 1:59.40 at the Women’s 800 meters race—surpassing the Olympic qualifying standard.

“For track and field events at the Olympics, there is a certain time you have to run in order to be considered,” Melissa explains. “The 800-meter standard is 1:59.50. That brings me one step closer to making the Canadian Olympic team this year. But I still have to place well at our National Championships, which may or may not happen because of COVID. So, I’m in limbo until then.”

Although the competition is fierce and the pandemic has added a new layer of uncertainty into what would already have been a tense year, Melissa remains optimistic about hopping on the plane to Tokyo this July.

“I have two more races coming up,” Melissa states. “If I keep performing well, that will give me a better chance of making the team. And honestly, I feel very relaxed about everything. This is not a new process for us runners. Things are always up in the air. That’s just how our sport works. The best thing we can do is keep our head down and keep training. We have to stay strong, stay healthy and perform when it matters.”

And performing when it matters is something Melissa is exceptionally skilled at.

“I’m 32,” Melissa reports. “And I’m just reaching the peak of my career. Between now and the next few years, I’ll be running at my best. To anyone looking to get into this sport, I would encourage them to enjoy every moment. This journey goes by so fast. Because once a race finishes, you can’t run it again. It’s done. It’s gone. It will always be in the past. So, don’t be afraid to get outside your comfort zone. You might find out that you’re really, really good at it.”

Melissa currently resides in Windsor with her husband Osi and her three-year-old daughter, Corinne.

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