Race walker shine in NAIA indoor track nationals

You may see them walking at a quick and steady pace up on the indoor track in the Recreation- Fitness Center, sometimes walking faster than some of the runners. But don’t be fooled: those are some of the most decorated athletes Goshen College has ever produced.

Goshen’s race-walking tradition dates to 2007, when Tina Peters began her streak of three consecutive indoor race walking national championships.

That recent and decorated tradition continued this past weekend in Geneva, Ohio. Five Maple Leaf track athletes competed for the men’s and women’s teams. Four of those athletes were race walkers. Out of the four walkers, three were named NAIA All-Americans. Two of the winners, Erin Helmuth and Jacob GunderKline, both juniors, earned All-American status for the second consecutive year.

“Race walking is a unique event because it combines speed, endurance, and technique,” said GunderKline, a junior. “It can take many people a while to be comfortable with the movement.”

“I knew this year that I had a really good chance at All-American, so I focused more on trying for a top three finish,” said Helmuth, who finished second.

Helmuth was the lone female competitor for the Maple Leafs at nationals this season and was looking to improve on her sixth-place finish in last year’s indoor track nationals. She shaved 15 seconds off her time, trailing only Nicole Bonk of Embry-Riddle University (Fla.) with a time of 15:18.07. This was the sixth consecutive year that Goshen sent a female race walker to nationals.

On the men’s side, GunderKline continued to rewrite Goshen’s record book, posting a career best with a time of 13:08.06 and a fourth-place finish.

“It is of course always a goal to be an All-American but, beyond that, I always want to push myself to a PR (personal record) and be proud of my race. If I can do those things, then the All-American honor usually takes care of itself,” said GunderKline.

Also nabbing All-American honors was Mitchell Brickson, the first man in the program’s history to collect All-American honors as a freshman. He posted a personal best of 14:16.54, walking to a sixth place finish.

Although these walkers make it seem easy to get into the national meet, the NAIA made it a little more difficult to qualify this season.

“This year the NAIA significantly lowered the qualifying times so it made it much more difficult to qualify for nationals. This leads to a smaller field at nationals than last year,” said Helmuth.

Seven athletes competed in the women’s race walk event while eleven competed on the men’s side.

Helmuth and GunderKline are pleased with their personal performances, but both All-Americans see the big picture.

“Having All-Americans on a track team can turn heads, even if they are from an unconventional event,” said GunderKline. “I am pleased that Goshen gains attention around the NAIA for being the race-walking hub that it is. We attract high-school students and other followers of the sport from around the country that otherwise would have no reason to know about Goshen.”

“It’s cool to be an All-American and to be able to say I was national runner-up,” Helmuth said. “It validates all the hard work I’ve put into training and coming back from knee surgery last fall. However, to be honest, I think it means a lot more to my team and Goshen College. It brings recognition to our track program, to the college, and to coach Doug Yoder for the great job he does coaching us.”

With nationals behind them, Goshen’s runners have seen the 2012 indoor season draw to a close. After a couple of weekends pass without meets, Goshen will begin outdoor competition when they travel to the Dick Small Invitational in Defiance, Ohio, on Saturday, March 24.

By Benjamin Kelly

Sports Editor

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