|IOWA CITY, Iowa — This weekend University of Iowa track and field freshmen Nathan Mylenek and Laulauga Tausaga will represent the United States in the 2017 Pan American Junior Championships in Trujillo, Peru.
Mylenek and Tausaga will trade in their black and gold for red, white, and blue and join 83 athletes to represent Team USA in the 3,000 meter steeplechase and discus, respectively. The competition will be a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
“This is just a great experience,” said UI director of track and field Joey Woody, who competed in the 1999 and 2003 World Track & Field Championships. “Once you get that USA uniform on, there is no better feeling.”
The two have stretched their seasons long past their peers and it’s their mentality that keeps them going.
“It’s a mental thing,” Woody said. “It’s that drive that you have to keep figuring out how to keep going and they have both been training at a high level this summer.”
Tausaga is Iowa’s first Big Ten women’s discus champion in school history and became a first-team All-American in the discus during her first season.
At the United States Track & Field Junior Championships on June 22, Tausaga became a junior national champion in the event with a mark of 54.04 meters. Now, heading to an international competition in a foreign country, she can’t believe where track and field has taken her during her young career.
“I knew if I worked as hard and as I did I would make it to nationals,” Tausaga said. “I would have never thought I would have gotten there my freshman year and become an All-American and compete for this team.”
Mylenek made a name for himself during his first season at Iowa. He began his season last September during cross country where he led Iowa in the 8,000 meters with a time of 25:9.3, set at the Bradley Classic. The coaching staff sees him as a leader of a young core of distance runners.
“We had three freshmen out at USA juniors and those guys qualified in five events,” UI associate head coach Randy Hasenbank said.
Mylenek’s success stems from his ability to adapt to Hasenbank’s training quickly.
“He has adapted well to the training,” Hasenbank said. “He is easy to coach because he has so much range. He needs to work on his fitness and that is something we add over time.”
“After the first meet of cross country, I never thought I would have made it this far,” Mylenek said. “Then everything came together outdoors and I really took off.”
During track season, Mylenek became a 2017 NCAA qualifier in the 3,000-meter steeplechase and he is ranked fourth in school history in the event with a time of 8:56.78, a time he ran twice this season.
“This is cool to do this as a freshman and knowing all my hard work has paid off,” Mylenek said. “I am looking forward to racing. This is an awesome way to get your name on the national stage.”
Now, Mylenek and Tausaga end their seasons wearing red, white, and blue.
“Being able to represent team USA is a once-in-a-lifetime deal,” Hasenbank said. “It may never happen again because it is such a competitive world. This is something that is special considering the thousands of kids that don’t make it.”
The 2017 Pan Am Junior Championships run July 21-23 in Trujillo, Peru. The 3,000-meter steeplechase runs 10:40 a.m. (CT) on Saturday and the women’s discus throw begins 8 a.m. on Saturday.