By Tanner Lipsett
Assistant Sports Information Director
Purdue senior Sarah Klaczynski is in the twilight of her collegiate career with the Boilermaker cross country and track and field teams, but she has every intention of going out with a bang. The last eight months have been the best of her career so far, but she insists there is more to come.
In Klaczynski’s first two and a half years at Purdue she proved herself a solid, but average runner for the Old Gold and Black. In cross country, she posted a top 6K time of 23:37.16 at the 2007 Big Ten Championships, and notched a 5K-best of 18:34.62 at the 2008 Auburn Tiger Invitational (a course which was considered flat and possibly not a full 5K by the Boilermaker coaches), while in track and field she competed sporadically in the mile and 1,500-meter run, with a top 1,500 time of 4:37.21.
Most of her inconsistent training and lack of overall improvement was due to injuries suffered in a car accident during her sophomore year, but Klaczynski thought the problem lay elsewhere and made a significant change.
"Although I never really gave myself the time to recover from my accident, I realized that mentally I didn’t know how to approach a Division I college race," said Klaczynski. "Through a lot of work with Dr. (Adam) Shunk (a Purdue sport psychologist) I started working on how to mentally prepare myself for races. We spend hours a day training our bodies to do something, but rarely think of how to train our minds."
The new level of mental focus and preparation has paid dividends for Klaczynski as she’s begun to make her impact on the Boilermaker cross country and track and field programs. Last spring she turned in the fourth-fastest 3,000-meter steeplechase time in school history, crossing the line in 11:01.64 at Ohio State’s Jesse Owens Track Classic and just missing the NCAA Regional qualification mark.
Last Saturday the success continued as she smashed her personal record for 5K on the cross country course, finishing second on the team (her highest career team placing) and seventh overall with a time of 18:14.4 at the 2009 Indiana Intercollegiate Championships, hosted by Indiana State University.
Saturday’s race followed an average season-opening performance by Klaczynski at the Boilermakers’ annual Great American Legends race, and she decided she was done with mediocrity.
"After coming off my performance from the first meet, I decided I wasn’t going to take it anymore," said Klaczynski. "I told myself, `I’m running my best time today and no other result is acceptable.’ I got out quickly, tucked myself in with the second pack and just picked off people as I went."
As the race continued her excitement grew, and a lot of it came from the support of her coaches, teammate and friends, the majority of which comes from the bond developed between Klaczynski, her fellow seniors and teammates.
An original class of eight young women, this year’s group of seniors has been through a wealth of trials and tribulations building to their senior season. In the end, they’ve developed a great bond and provide each other with an outstanding collection of supporters, a group greatly appreciated by Klaczynski.
"You can never break the bond of a teammate," she said. "When I step to the starting line and know that I’m there with people who have been there with me since day one at Purdue, it’s incredibly reassuring. We’ve been excited together and we’ve been disappointed together, but we now know that supporting each other only makes us all better."
Also among her group of her supporters is her fiancé Brandon Haveman, a former standout outfielder for the Purdue baseball team. "Brandon has been amazing throughout my running career, supporting me in success, listening through my struggles and providing a great example in his success in his own athletic career," said Klaczynski.
Klaczynski’s mental attitude and preparation extends past the cross country course and track as she’s been a standout in the classroom as well. A four-time Academic All-Big Ten honoree, she is an elementary education major at Purdue and is very prepared for her future career.
"One of my biggest goals in life has always been to be a great teacher," said Klaczynski. "I feel my own education has served as great preparation for this and I can’t wait to get ready for my own classroom."
With just eight months left in West Lafayette, Klaczynski seems to have put herself on the right paths, both athletically and educationally. While we’re not sure when her best will come, we’re sure it’s coming.