AUSTIN, Texas—Missing a good chunk of a season is difficult for any athlete.
Northwestern State sprinter Aarika Lister knows that feeling all too well.
After having a successful start to her NSU career, Lister saw her season end prematurely due to injury in mid-April of the 2022 season.
Back in action for her final season, she leads the NSU track & field teams into the 95th Clyde Littlefield Texas Relays, an impressive three-day meet that begins Thursday at 10 a.m. for NSU at Mike A. Myers Stadium on the campus of the University of Texas.
All three days will be streamed on ESPN+.
“It feels amazing to be back on the track after being injured last season,” Lister said. “It is an honor and I am blessed. I have been through a lot of adversity with injuries, but I try to stay as positive as I can and cheer my teammates on and be a positive teammate throughout the season.
“I just needed to work on myself and figure out the things I needed to get better at and I was able to do that and now I am ready to run.”
It was a tough adjustment for the current senior to not be out with her team and helping compete for a conference championship.
“I’m not going to lie, some days were really tough for me,” Lister said. “It was really an on-and-off thing for me when trying to keep a positive mindset after the injury. Some days I didn’t have a positive mindset. But even in the days that I didn’t, I had people surrounding me, pushing me and uplifting me.
“Some days I would come out to the track crying, seeing people run and practice, but having those people who were really uplifting me and cheering me on really helped.”
While she couldn’t help her teammates compete for an outdoor title in 2022, she did just that in the 2023 indoor season, helping lead the Lady Demons to their first team conference championship in program history in February, edging out Lamar and UIW, in a tight race to the finish.
Lister garnered points for the Lady Demons in the 60-meters at the SLC Championships, narrowly missing the podium with a fourth-place finish with a 7.58.
Earlier in the season, in just her second meet post-injury, she won the 60-meter final in the Pittsburg Invitational with a personal best 7.43 after finishing third in the prelims. That time is the best time in program history by an athlete not named Lynell Washington.
She also recorded a personal best in the 200-meters at the Tyson Invitational with a 24.38 in the indoor season.
“Aarika had a phenomenal indoor season and it is a testament to her fortitude mentally and her rehab and work ethic because she did not want to give up,” head coach Mike Heimerman said.
While being out for much of the 2022 season, Lister was able to stay motivated by self-improvement, even if she had to wait until 2023 to showcase it.
“Since I was out for basically all of last season, I think that motivated me to get back out there,” she said. “The sky is the limit for me and to keep pushing myself to the best of my abilities. That is how I stay motivated, getting better.”
In the current outdoor season, she was a member of the 4×100 relay team—with Lynell Washington, Vanessa Balde and Maygan Shaw—at the TCU Alumni Invitational, finishing second with a time of 45.62.
Having such a young team, Lister has been a perfect person to lead a women’s squad filled with 12 freshmen, including 10 track athletes.
Heimerman has noticed how much she has grown as a leader.
“Aarika has done a great job at being a mentor and leader,” he said. “She has done a great job at taking them under her wing and telling them how to navigate through prelims and finals if they make it and how to prepare each day to prepare for the next.”
She began her time at NSU in 2021 following spending time at both Oral Roberts and Coffeyville CC. In her first season as a Lady Demon and made an impact immediately.
Lister ran mostly in the 100-meters and 4×100 relay in 2021, earning a spot on the All-Louisiana and All-Southland Conference teams. A part of the 4×100 relay team, she ran a 45.28 at the Texas Relays, which was the eighth fastest in NSU history at the time.
The 4×100 relay team was named First Team All-Louisiana, while she earned Third Team All-Louisiana in the 60-meters indoor thanks to a bronze medal in the SLC Indoor Championships with a 7.56 time, which was a personal best prior to her 7.43 at the Pittsburg State Invitational.
While winning is important for Lister, it not the only reason for working her way to back.
“If I am not the most competitive, I am one of the most competitive on the team,” Lister said. “I do want to win, but if that doesn’t happen, I just want to finish and say that I did not quit or give up and I gave it my all.”