A group of GC track athletes have qualified to compete in the NAIA National Championship meet.  The competitors who qualified include junior Abby Dunn, sophomore Kayla Gray, and seniors Brad Sandlin, Mitchell Brickson, and Kolton Nay. Each of these athletes has qualified to compete in the 3000 meter race walk.  Sophomore Ryan Smith will also be traveling to compete in the 3000 meter run.

According to Athletic Director Josh Gleason, the athletes will have left at mid-day on Wednesday, the 4th to travel to Geneva, Ohio –just east of Cleveland – to compete at the Spire Institute.  This will give the athletes a chance “to practice on the track Wednesday evening and again on Thursday.  The competition begins Thursday afternoon, but we are not in action until Friday,” Gleason explained.  The athletes will return Saturday.

Head Coach Doug Yoder has high hopes heading into the meet.  “We expect to be very competitive at this national level meet and come away with 6 NAIA All-Americans.” All-American status can be earned by finishing in the top 8 for and event.  Coach Yoder’s final words of encouragement will be, as he said, “Remember what the training was that we did for this meet, remember why we trained the way we did, be smart how you race, and above all else compete with heart when you step on the track.”

The athletes are anxiously awaiting the meet.  For senior Brad Sandlin, he has been preparing for this for his whole life.  “My journey began at birth,” he explained.  “Ever since my first steps at 10 1/2 months, I knew I was bound for greatness.  Walking seemed to come naturally to me.  It was not until my mentor Doug Yoder recognized my talents that I fully realized the scope of my potential.  From then on I could feel I was bound for the race walking national meet.  It has been tough, but I’ve worked hard and made it to this point.”

Somewhat similarly, sophomore Ryan Smith has been training for a great portion of his life.  “I’ve been training 50 weeks a year since I was 14 years old,” he said.  “Year-round, I’m working out twice a day about three times a week and take one day completely off every month.”  All that work has paid off, he said.  “The training is starting to pull together and I’m getting stronger as the season goes on.”

When asked what he will be telling himself as the steps on the track to compete, Smith echoed his coach.  “There are many things I will tell myself.  First is that I’m ready. The workouts I’ve been doing leading into nationals show that I’m in the best shape of my life and I can ‘duke it out’ with everyone else that toes the line.”  Smith also talked a little about the strategy of running the race.  “I also need to tell myself to be patient.  At national meets people will refuse to push the pace until the second half of the race and the last lap is blazing fast.  I need to tell myself to be ready to cover their moves, stay in contact with the front pack, and be ready for that last lap when everybody takes off.”  He concluded by discussing the respect he has for his competition.  “The last thing I will tell myself is that the people I will be against are no joke. They train just as hard as I do and want it just as bad as I do. The absolute worst thing I can do is underestimate anyone else who is there.”

For senior Kolton Nay, the key is confidence and composure.  “When I step onto the track, I’ll be telling myself that I can do this, to take a breath deep, and to stay calm. Nerves always get the best of me before a race, and even during a race…but this time I have to race smart and eliminate the anxiety if I want to really make some waves.”