EUGENE, Ore. – The 2018 season of TrackTown Tuesday got off to a rousing start before a crowd of 200 at the Downtown Athletic Club on Tuesday night.
The star-studded guest list included the Lane Community College men’s cross country team, three members of the Oregon women’s team (representing each national title of their historic Triple Crown), Oregon Track Club Elite newcomer Luke Puskedra and former UO standout Raevyn Rogers, the 2017 female recipient of The Bowerman.
First-year head coach Bill Steyer, who guided the LCC team to a second consecutive Northwest Athletic Conference Championship this past fall, opened the evening by comparing coaching his team of five runners to coaching dogs as a professional dog musher in Alaska.
“Both sports have their advantages and disadvantages,” Steyer said. “At the end of the day, I can offer to these guys a ‘Good job! I’ll see you tomorrow.’ But after a 50-mile dog run, I can say ‘Dogs, great job,’ and then I have to feed them and even have to clean up after them.”
At the conference championships, Lane’s Andy Muha and Michael Martin claimed the top two spots on the podium. Muha crossed the finish line first in a time of 26 minutes, 47.30 seconds, followed by Martin, in 26:56.90. All five LCC runners finished in the top 20.
Looking towards the upcoming track season, Steyer believes this group will help the success of the team.
“It’s a really talented group,” Steyer said. “From long distance, to the 800 and the 400, we can score a lot of points.”
The women of Oregon know what it’s like to score points on the track, as Katie Rainsberger, Hannah Cunliffe and Brooke Feldmeier were key parts in Oregon’s run for the Triple Crown last spring.
Rainsberger helped earn the first crown for the Ducks. She was the top finishing freshman at the 2016 NCAA Cross Country Championships with her fourth-place mark.
“One of the things that we really emphasized last year was resilience and how do you act when things don’t look the way you want them to,” Rainsberger said. “It’s the best athlete that can react in those sorts of scenarios. How you learn from that is your career as an athlete.”
Cunliffe, who celebrated her 22nd birthday on Tuesday, helped secure the middle crown with a 60-meter dash win and a runner-up finish behind teammate Ariana Washington in the 200m at the 2017 NCAA Indoor Championships.
When asked which race she preferred, indoors or outdoors, Cunliffe said “the 100 is definitely my favorite. The 60m indoors you have to have a perfect race … there’s more room to open up in the 100.”
A part of the final run for the Triple Crown, Feldmeier finished third in the 800 meters at the 2017 NCAA Outdoor Championships at Hayward Field.
“I didn’t just want to be there, I wanted to score points, I wanted to make something happen,” Feldmeier said. “I think everyone knew that (the Triple Crown) was possible. We just had to go out there and do what we always do.”
As a Duck, Puskedra was an 11-time all-American. Now, as a professional athlete for OTC Elite, he’s turned to marathons, running his personal record of 2:10:24 in 2015, the top mark by an American that year.
Days after barely missing qualification for the 2016 Rio Olympics with a fourth-place finish at the U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials, he learned his seven-month old daughter had cancer. After experiencing the running community’s overflowing support for his family, Puskedra saw the sport in a new light.
“It wasn’t the money or the monetary amount [of donations],” Puskedra said. “It was seeing the people and the messages that came with it. I looked at running before this almost like a business. But seeing the different outlooks people had really helped me out.”
Rogers is someone who has also experienced vast amounts of this community’s support.
Throughout her time at UO, she won five individual NCAA titles. She secured Oregon’s Triple Crown with her epic final leg of the 4×400-meter relay at the 2017 NCAA Outdoor Championships in June.
It was for these accomplishments and more that Rogers was awarded the 2017 Bowerman Award in December. She is the fifth Oregon athlete to receive the award.
“That night, I really came to the realization of myself that, ‘Wow, you really did it!’” Rogers said. “Just thinking of the years that I put in…I’ve been working for what I wanted since I was five.”
Choosing to forgo her final year of eligibility at Oregon, Rogers will move to Philadelphia to begin her professional career after graduation.
“My ultimate running goal is to leave a legacy behind,” Rogers said. “I really want to be a legend in this sport.”
TrackTown Tuesday will return on February 6.
Special guests include two-time Olympian and former UO star Andrew Wheating, who recently announced his retirement from running, along with University of Oregon Athletic Director Rob Mullens.
Video Recap by Nick Lackides