As a six-year-old, Ridgewood’s Karissa Bertling was content to play in the long jump sand pit while older sister Heather was busy piling up wins on the local track circuit.
Then Karissa saw the shiny medals that other kids her age were winning, and she wanted one too.
From that point, she was hooked on track.
“I remember, we had been trying to get (Karissa) to do a little practice here and there, what the rest of the team was doing, and she didn’t want any part of it,” said longtime Ridgewood track coach Sue Vien, who at the time was coaching Karissa’s sister Heather for the Alpha Omega AAU program. “The 100 goes off and she saw they got these big medals, and she goes ‘can I run?’ And then she cleaned their clocks. And she got her medal and was all excited.”
On Monday, Karissa Bertling signed a letter-of-intent to attend East Tennessee State, a Division I school in Johnson City, Tenn., on a track scholarship.
The Buccaneers are interested in Bertling for the sprint distances, the 100 meter, 200 meter and 400 meter events she has had so much success with at Ridgewood.
“I love the area. I have family close by. It’s a full ride,” Bertling said. “I get to run the races I want to run. They have an indoor track so I can run all year round. Don’t have to worry about an icy track or anything.”
Bertling chose East Tennessee Stateover offers from Jacksonville University, USF and Army. According to Vien, Bertling was the top recruit on Army’s radar.
“She’s a natural, but she works at it too,” Vien said. “She works hard. She’s on the weightlifting team to build muscle and strength. And now she’s pretty ripped…She’s the real deal.”
Bertling becomes Ridgewood’s first Division I signee for girls track and field since 1998 when Shar Foster signed with the University of South Carolina.
During Bertling's junior season at Ridgewood, she ran 24.80 in the 200 meter dash at the Class 3A state track and field meet to place third. She also placed fifth in the state in the 100 and 400.
Bertling, who plans to major in criminal justice at East Tennessee State, holds the Ridgewood school record for the 100 (11.8) and is aiming for Foster’s record in the 200 this season.