In The Spotlight – Austin Steagall

We wanted to learn more about Austin.  We think you will enjoy reading more about this talented and up-and-coming runner. He competes at the highest level in his sport. However, his journey there wasn’t easy. Austin had to deal with college rejection and health issues.

Why do you run?

I find it to be my most relaxing part of the day. It’s my time to be alone and think or not think. There is just something special when it is just you and the open road. No wrong turns. No rules and no one telling you what to do. The mind is clear. However, I also love the competitive side of it and pushing the limits of the human body. It is my way of stepping away from this very distracting world. Even if it’s only for a moment or should I say a mile or two of my own paradise.

What was your catalyst for pursuing a career in racing?

It was the aspect of it somewhat being an individual sport. The individuality of running intrigued me. I liked the idea of it being me versus the rest of the field. In the past, I was involved in team sports, where the team either won or lost. There were no individual wins. With running it’s different. It is up to me how well I do as an individual. I have no one to blame but myself. I just loved the simplicity of the fact that I alone determined my future. But don’t get me wrong; I also love the team side of sports. It is something special when you accomplish something as a group. I have had many moments where if it were not for my teammates, I would not have been part of some celebratory moments.

Who inspired you? Who are your idols?

No specific individual inspired me to become a runner. What inspired me was how amazing the human body is and the unknown potential it carries inside. That is what drives me each and every day. Not the times. Not the records. Simply the fact of how fast can I train my body to be. Finding my limits. I believe those limits have not yet been reached. I will continue to challenge myself.

My idols would have to be my family and God. Without my Lord and savior Jesus Christ, I would definitely not be where I am today and my mom reminds me of that every day. I am so thankful for my family, and they have supported me from day one. No matter how good or how bad I did in competition, they were there to pick me up. Without the support of my family, I do not think I would be in the position I am in today.

Tell us more about yourself and your background.

I am originally from Gaffney, SC. This is where I graduated from high school. Then I began my college adventure at Spartanburg Methodist College, a junior college, where I received my Associate’s Degree. After that, I transferred to the University of Mount Olive in North Carolina, where I received my Bachelor’s in Business. I am now currently running professionally for Asics Greenville Track Club ELITE based in Greenville, SC.

I have competed in sports since I was young, including baseball, football, and basketball. But I started running in the 8th grade. After playing all the other sports, I had finally found my calling. Initially, I thought my calling was to become a hurdler. Hurdling was my attraction to competing in track and field.  But shortly thereafter, Kevin Hammitt convinced me to run a 1-mile time trial after watching me practice for a few weeks. I finished in 6 minutes. He looked straight at me, with excitement all over his face, and said, “You’re in the wrong event. You’re a distance runner.”

After seeing his reaction, I was convinced. Each day I got a little better and showed improvement. My mind was set, and I wanted to be good enough to run in college.

So did you run in college?

My running career took a small detour. You see, it all came to a halt in the summer before my senior year in high school when I became anemic. After the summer of my junior year, I had been convinced that I was in the best shape of my career. After my first race as a senior, I was ranked 2nd in the state. I was excited for what the future held. However, each race thereafter became worse as my performance diminished and my confidence vanished!

Not only had my racing become poor, but more dis-heartening, all of the colleges that had shown an interest quit contacting me. I felt empty.  However, I wasn’t going to let my health condition of being anemic hold me back. I took actions to start correcting my medical condition.

Somehow it paid off. After thinking that I had no shot of going to college as a runner, I received a phone called from a man named Mike Foley.

He was the head coach of Spartanburg Methodist College (SMC)—a Junior College with a good running program. Coach Foley had followed me from the beginning of my high school career and he was confident that I would bounce back. He told me he could continue to improve me as a runner. And he did just that. I left SMC with 8 school records and a couple All-American rewards. I am forever grateful to Coach Foley for believing in me. His initiative in my life at that time changed the course of my running career.

What was next?

After graduating SMC, I continued my career at a Division II school, the University of Mount Olive, under head coach Matthew Van Lierop. I was able to continue to work extremely hard and improved each year, earning All-American, All-Region, and multiple Conference Championship awards. My time at Mount Olive was unforgettable. As my senior year came to an end, my coach and I discussed continuing my career as a professional. We reached out to many different professional programs, and ASICS Greenville Track Club-ELITE (GTC-Elite) in Greenville, SC, accepted me. It has been an honor to train with and compete for this club.

After only a year and a half in the program, I have accomplished 8 personal best in 8 different events and competed in the USA 5k Road Championships. I have traveled all over the country competing against some of the best athletes in the nation. ASICS GTC-Elite has been a huge blessing in my life, and I look forward to what the future holds.

Many running goals have been set, and I am determined and committed to do what is necessary to accomplish these goals.

What was your favorite race memory?

My favorite race would definitely be the DII NCAA Track and Field Championships my senior year of college. This was the year that changed my running career.

It was the first year I had ever competed in the steeplechase and I ended up advancing all the way to the Championships, where I placed 2nd overall. I had competed in the 5,000 meters in the previous years, but never did as well as expected. It was such an amazing moment, and it was also my first time becoming All-American in Division II. But more importantly, that moment is my favorite because I had finally defeated the mental block I had been fighting with for so long.

Throughout college, I had never had a problem getting to the Championship race; my problem was competing at the level I had displayed during the year. The pressure was always too much for me. I’m not ashamed to admit it: I would choke in big races and everyone knew it. But I had entered my senior year with a different mindset. My coach (Matt Van Lierop) and I had really worked hard on the mental side of running all year because we knew this was my last shot to do well at the Championship race.

What was your worse race memory?

My worse race memory was back in high school before I knew I had become anemic. It was my second race during my senior year, and I was expecting to have a great season. And then it happened out of nowhere. We were having a dual meet on my home course and I was expected to win. The gun went off and I had never felt so exhausted and weak from the get-go. It felt as if I had already completed an extremely hard workout and then immediately jumped on the line to race. It was confusing to me because my training was going so well! I ended up losing that race. I visited a doctor a couple of weeks later after realizing I was not getting better. My senior year was over before I knew it and the road of recovery from anemia began.

What was it like to race against world-class athletes in the USA 5k Road Championships?

My experience racing with such world-class athletes at the 5k Championships was absolutely amazing, and it will be a race I will never forget. All my hard work was starting to pay off. It was my first time ever competing in a USA Championship road race, and I could not ask for a better field to compete against. Although I didn’t run as fast or place as high as I would have liked to, I still learned a lot from the race alone. Also, it was so inspirational to chat with other athletes before and after the race to get their view about the sport. Those athletes definitely inspire me to achieve and reach for higher goals. It is amazing how humble these guys are. Being able to connect with them will be something I remember for the rest of my life.

What adjustments have you made since then?

As far as training goes, I really didn’t make any adjustments to my training after competing in the 5k Championship race.  Now, as time passes, workouts will continue to get faster, but the workouts we have been doing will stay the same. My coach (Mike Caldwell) and I strongly believe in our approach to getting better, and we believe it will continue to make me better. Since joining GTC-Elite in 2016, I have already seen so much improvement in my overall fitness. We see no need to make changes, although it was informative to hear what these guys do daily.

Now my mental approach for a Championship race like the 5k has changed. I now have a better understanding of how the race will most likely play out and how strategic a race like that can get. I was not expecting such a big move from the field with a mile to go. That was when a gap was created from me to the lead group, and once I realized what happened, it was too late for me. Next time, I’ll be ready for the move.

Where do you see yourself in 5 years?

As for 5 years from now…. I am not sure. My primary focus is the next two-and-a-half years and the 2020 Olympic Trials. My coach and I are focusing on qualifying for the 3,000-meter steeplechase or the 5,000-meter run. Once I achieve this goal, I will reevaluate my running goals/career with my coach.

 

 

 

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