Former Illinois State distance runner Aisha Praught ’12 has signed a professional contract with Nike while pursuing a post-collegiate career running for the Oregon Track Club (OTC) Elite in Eugene, Oregon.

“After so many years of hard work, it is an amazing feeling to know that I have some sort of guarantee for the next couple years,” said Praught, who is the first Illinois State track and field student-athlete to turn professional since long jumper JaRod Tobler in 2008.

Praught’s career began shortly after ending a senior campaign that included a NCAA Division I Runner-up performance in the mile (4:39.85), as well as finishing as the top-collegiate student-athlete in the 3,000-meter steeplechase at the prestigious Mt. SAC Relays.

She was instrumental in the women’s cross country team winning its first Missouri Valley Conference title in 2011. The All-American ended her ISU career at the 2012 U.S. Olympic Track & Field Team Trials, finishing 16th in the steeplechase with a time of 9:55.78.

Praught proved herself last summer before a deal was completed. She competed in the European Flanders Cup, then ran the Morton Mile at the 2012 Morton Pre Games in Dublin, Ireland. Praught turned in a lifetime-best performance of 4:35.96, finishing eighth.

“This deal shows how hard Praught has worked the last four years,” ISU head track and field coach Elvis Forde said. “She had aspirations to continue running, and she found herself a place where she can take advantage of it. I believe she can make it.”

ISU head cross country coach Jeff Bovee agrees.

“Aisha has the potential to run at the national level and even make a world team,” Bovee said. “With the improvements she made over her last year at Illinois State and starting to figure out racing and training tactics, the sky is the limit for her.”

Praught realizes the opportunities that are ahead of her, saying “I am literally living the dream.”