Rachel Helbling thought her track and field career was over.
After rounding out one of the most successful careers in University of Richmond history last summer with eight school records and eight Atlantic 10 Conference championships to her credit, the South Fayette graduate began to act on her plans for her future.
“In undergrad I really knew I wanted to go to pharmacy school,” Helbling said.
When landing in the University of Texas’ graduate degree program, Helbling said she didn’t initially consider running because she knew how “time consuming school would be.”
Upon being admitted to Texas, however, Helbling said she began regretting not using her final year of NCAA eligibility.
The rest has resulted in more history.
Helbling eventually reached out to the Longhorns coaching staff and was placed on the team ahead of the start to the 2023 indoor track and field season. She recently captured a Big 12 individual championship in the 600-meter run and is a member of Texas’ record-setting 1,600-meter relay team, which is expected to contend for a title at the NCAA track and field indoor championships this weekend in Albuquerque, N.M.
“It’s been so crazy, but so fun at the same time,” Helbling said. “It’s definitely not what I would’ve expected, especially when I was starting at Richmond, but right now I feel like it’s all happened at a good time.”
Helbling finished the 600-meter run in 1:18.41 to win her most recent conference title in late February at the Big 12 Indoor Track and Field championship at Texas Tech’s Sport Performance Center.
“Obviously, I’ve had experience winning conference at Richmond,” she said. “This is kind of just like not something I was really expecting before this year and kind of being able to say, ‘Wow, I’m a Big 12 Conference champion’ is really cool.”
Helbling holds Richmond indoor records in the 400-, 500- and 600-meter runs, in addition to being a member of the program-best 1,600-meter and distance medley relay teams. She also holds Richmond outdoor records as part of the Spiders’ 1,600-meter, 3,200-meter and distance medley relay teams.
Despite Helbling’s success at Richmond, things didn’t necessarily begin smoothly for her while competing in the Big 12.
Texas track and field head coach Edrick Floréal said Helbling initially struggled with confidence issues after making the jump from the Atlantic 10 to a Power Five conference.
“The first few weeks I thought this is probably not going to work, she might not be able to hang on,” Floréal said. “Then she grew in confidence.”
Helbling said she also had her doubts.
“It wasn’t too crazy of a jump, but compared to my old conference it was more competitive and a little bit bigger,” she said.
Floréal said training with the world-class talent at Texas has paid dividends for Helbling as well.
“I think the expectations here are a lot different and I think she had to adjust to them,” he said.
Floréal said Helbling’s training regimen at Texas has included asking her to run times at or near her personal-best marks at Richmond. He said that change in intensity was difficult for Helbling to grapple with early in her tenure with the Longhorns.
“I can tell you that the last few months, a month and a half, she sort of just bought in and said, ‘I’ll do what my crazy coach tells me and see what happens,’” Floréal said.
Helbling finished as runner-up in the 600-meter run with a time of 1:33.11 at the Commonwealth College Opener and finished third in the 200-meter run with a time of 54.41 at the Cardinal Classic. She added a personal-best time of 1:29.41 in the 600-meter run at the Dr. MLK Jr. Invitational and set another top personal mark with a time of 53.40 in the 400-meter run at the New Mexico Collegiate Classic.
Things only got better when she ran the opening leg of the 1,600-meter relay that set a Texas record with a time of 3:26.73 on the final day of Clemson’s Tiger Paw Invitational, while also setting another personal best in the 800-meter run with a time of 2:07.15.
“I definitely think I’ve grown a lot just over these past months training here,” Helbling said. “I think being on the team at Texas has allowed me to train with some really, really great athletes.
“I definitely think I’ve learned so many lessons from running track that are going to apply to all parts of my life.”
Floréal said Helbling has set the goal of becoming an All-American while at Texas. He added he hopes she is able to finish her indoor campaign strong before transitioning to the outdoor season were she could qualify for an individual spot at the NCAA championships – most likely in the 800-meter run.
“She’s a hell of a teammate,” Floréal said. “She’s always doing what she’s told. She’s always on time.
“She’s very disciplined, punctual for sure, respectful, hard worker, a great teammate, great worker.”
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