June 22, 2013
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Editor’s Note: The following first appeared in the University of Iowa’s Hawk Talk Daily, an e-newsletter that offers a daily look at the Iowa Hawkeyes, delivered free each morning to thousands of fans of the Hawkeyes worldwide.
IOWA CITY, Iowa — On April 30, 2011, the University of Iowa track and field program astonished the crowd at the 102nd running of the Drake Relays.
In back-to-back events, the Hawkeyes won the women’s sprint medley relay and the men’s sprint medley relay, sending the crowd into a tizzy and bringing eight white “champion” flags back to Iowa City. The 800-meter anchor legs were assigned to Bethany Praska and Erik Sowinski.
Praska and Sowinski returned to the Jim Duncan Track inside Drake Stadium on June 20 for the opening round of the 800-meter run competition at the USA Outdoor Track & Field Championships. Praska, competing unattached, placed 19th and did not advance to the 12-person semifinal with a time of 2:03.78; Sowinski, a recent Nike signee, was an automatic qualifier in 1:48.44.
Both continue to train in Iowa City — Praska with UI assistant coach Clive Roberts and Sowinski with UI assistant coach Joey Woody.
“Post-collegiately it’s all about learning, trying to get your travel schedule down, and how many meets you will race,” Praska said. “Obviously it’s a lot less than what I did two years ago, so last year and this year have been spent trying to get a feel for the amount of training versus the amount of racing.”
A highlight for Praska was placing third at the USA Indoor Track & Field Championships in March in Albuquerque with a lifetime best of 2:03.57.
“In a sense I have had to prove others wrong, but I have had to prove a lot to myself, too. When you start at the bottom and you have such high expectations of yourself, you have to prove things to yourself to gain that confidence.”
USA 800-meter runner
“That was a steppingstone in the right direction,” she said.
Praska earned a degree in Spanish education from the UI, but she wants to continue on the running circuit before entering the “real world.” A low-key part-time job pays bills while she pursues her running dream.
“Right now I’m taking it year-by-year, so hopefully a couple years down the road I will be even further than I am today,” she said.
Praska’s goal is to shave two seconds off her PR in the 800 to bring her results into the 2:01 range.
Sowinski has made a living taking journeys from the basement to the high-rise. His work ethic in high school prepared him to become a Division I runner. After receiving a slight scholarship to attend the UI, he progressed into a Division I All-American. His almost Rocky Balboa approach to the post-collegiate running scene took a favorable turn when, as a late addition to February’s Millrose Games in New York City, he set the American record for the indoor 600-meter run (1:15.61).
He is now sponsored by the most recognizable shoe company on the planet as he chases a spot on the United States World Team that will compete in Moscow from Aug. 10-18.
“In a sense I have had to prove others wrong, but I have had to prove a lot to myself, too,” Sowinski said. “When you start at the bottom and you have such high expectations of yourself, you have to prove things to yourself to gain that confidence.”
The journey is far from over for Sowinski, who has had little trouble transitioning to life as a professional runner.
“I still have high expectations and I’m excited to see where it takes me,” he said.
The Jim Duncan Track has been the site of many of the top efforts in Sowinski’s career, including the sprint medley title at the Drake Relays in 2011 and a runner-up finish at the 2012 NCAA Championships in the 800 (1:45.90).
On the evening of June 21, Sowinski kept his track journey moving upward when he qualified for the final of the 800 at the USA Championships with a PR of 1:45.29. That event will be decided Sunday at 3:13 p.m. (CT).
Praska and Sowinski have provided UI fans plenty of fond memories while wearing black and gold. Even if the color of their racing gear has changed, they stride on as superb representatives of the Hawkeyes while running near the front of the pack in all facets of life.