November 05, 2013 | 04:43 PMWILLIAMS BAY — Faith Christian senior Luke Versweyveld rubbed his hands together and flexed his muscular forearms. He sat with his elbows on a table in school administrator Craig Skrede’s office. Classes had already ended for the day. Kids shouldered their bags and laughed by the glass doors at the school’s front entrance. From where he sat, Versweyveld could see his classmates leaving through the office window. He heard the bell ring, but he didn’t seem to notice. His eyes were bright and focused. He was talking about running.
“I’ve always wanted to race at Hayward Field,” he confessed. “That’s the University of Oregon’s track. The University of Oregon is kind of like the Mecca of distance running.”
Olympic trials and national meets are consistently held at Hayward. Legendary runner Steve Prefontaine raced there and made it famous. The junior world championship qualifiers will be held there next year – the best runners under 19-years-old from around the world will race, and Versweyveld wants to join them.
“I’ve always wanted to race there,” he said. “And I actually might get the chance next year. Possibly. If things go the way I want them to.”
In the two seasons since he said he “got serious” about running, Versweyveld has finished in the top five at the state cross country meet twice.
He took third place overall at the state meet Saturday afternoon in Wisconsin Rapids. He took fourth place last year.
Versweyveld also took fourth place at the Wisco Mile in June – an event that draws athletes from throughout the Midwest, Verweyveld said. He competed in the “high school elite” category and ran a mile in 4:19.
“I’ve been ranked as high as fifth overall in the state for all divisions,” he said. And his skill has attracted some attention – he’s being recruited by Division I college running programs, 17 of them “and maybe a 100 or so just colleges in general,” he said.
But there’s something more impressive about Versweyveld than his medals.
It’s not that he runs around 70 miles a week during his meatiest training months. It’s not that on light days he runs four miles before school and more after, or that after he eats dinner, he dives into hours of supplemental training – “core, abs, hip mobility, weight lifting, upper body, lower body.” It’s not that he is on the strict training regimen of a professional athlete as a 17-year-old.
It’s that he does it alone.
Faith Christian’s high school enrollment is just under 60 students. The school does not have a football team.
“We’re a basketball school,” Skrede explained.
Versweyveld is the only cross country runner. He is also the sole track athlete. He used to play basketball, but the risk for injury became to great, he said, once he decided to focus on running.
Many students interested in playing Sports are forced to compete, if possible, with Kenosha Christian Life teams 50 minutes east of Williams Bay.
And for Versweyveld, the distance is even farther.
“We have a Delavan address,” he said, “but it’s basically Whitewater.”
He lives on a hobby farm with his parents and running has always been a part of his family, he said, “it was just the thing to do.”
Versweyveld’s older sister, Lauren, was an All-American runner for Olivet Nazarene University in Illinois. She lives in Janesville now and occasionally gives him training advice along with the cross country coach at Kenosha Christian life.
But he rarely runs with them or any of his teammates.
“I’m blessed with determination,” he said. “It does kind of get hard, just like the day, after day, after day, after day; not being able to hang out with friends because I have to sleep to recover from the stress of training. And I have to be really strict about my diet and stuff like that.”
Versweyveld said training can get lonely without a team or coaches. But he finds ways to keep busy. During the fall, he checks the football schedules of nearby High Schools and sneaks onto their tracks to train when they’re playing out of town. And the countryside is beautiful where he lives, he said. Runs don’t get boring. Even when he’s on a treadmill staring at a blank wall, he said, he day-dreams about races and keeps his mind occupied.
However, he does worry that not having direct competition in training is holding him back. It’s an issue that has played a major role in his college search.
“I definitely want to go somewhere were I’m absolutely going to be able to reach my full potential as an athlete,” he said, but team chemistry is also a big deal.
He listed his top five choices: Bradley University, Butler University, the University of Portland, Boise State University and Hillsdale College.
Bradley doesn’t have the best program right now, or the biggest, he said. The program is very new, but the university has been attracting some top-notch recruits, he and some of his friends – other top runners in the state – are interested in going there.
“Taylor Floyd-Mews (Wauwatosa West), Ethan Moehn (Monroe), Kevin Ryan (Kenosha St. Joseph),” Versweyveld listed his friends and top competitors.“ A bunch of us are all looking at Bradley, that’s what’s drawing me to that one in particular.”
He said that the idea of helping to grow a program is very appealing, and being part of a team atmosphere with friends.
But two years ago, running wasn’t such a huge part of his life.
As a sophomore, he said he competed in a few races for fun, unattached to a school – “we didn’t have a team yet,” he said. At one meet he ran the 1600 meter in 4:30. A very fast time, especially for someone who hasn’t been training and doesn’t belong to a team.
The performance turned some heads, he said. In a sport where times are meticulously kept and enviously monitored, a runner emerging from obscurity with a competitive time is rare.
He said to himself: “I wonder, if I put everything into this, like, where I could take this?”
That’s when it became more than a hobby, he said.That’s when he said he started taking training more seriously.
Now his priorities have changed – and his expectations. He wants to run professionally and eventually try his hand at coaching.
“I definitely want to sign a contract after college,” he said.
And the Olympics are always floating in the back of his mind.
“That’s kind of like, you know, like the dream, he said.”And then there’s stepping stone goals. My sophomore year in college will be the next Olympics. I definitely want to try and qualify for the Olympic trials.
“I mean, I’m realistic. I know making the team as a sophomore. that’s far-fetched. Runners typically peak around 28-29. Qualifying for the trials, that would be a goal. Just being there would be such an experience.”
But his immediate goals are much less ambitions; he’s just trying to enjoy his senior year and not put too much pressure on himself.
Running with a team, however, is something he’s looking forward to next year.
“Even if you’re self-driven and you push yourself,” he said. “It’s just some sort of subconscious thing. When you have someone there you’re going to push yourself harder.”