Kiana Phelps, KP-WCU-Oregon and Mike Jay

Memories From the Drake Relays: Kiana Phelps

Kiana Phelps-Kingsley Pearson with her Drake Relays Flag and Next Level Iowa water bottle..two treasured items!

Kiana Phelps-Kingsley Pearson with her Drake Relays Flag and Next Level Iowa water bottle..two treasured items!

Kiana Phelps, KP-WCU graduate and a freshman at Oregon is a four-time Iowa state champion and four-time Drake Relays Champion in the discus and won the state title in the shot put as a senior.  Has the State meet record in the Discus at 172-0, the Drake Relays record of162-7 and the Iowa HS All Time best at 179-7.  She competed in the discus at the 2016 IAAF World U20 Championships, coming away with a fifth-place finish. Top-ranked prep discus thrower in the country in 2015 per Track and Field News.

Feature photo: Kiana Phelps, KP-WCU-Oregon and Mike Jay

Drake Relays is special

to my family, because we have watched and/or participated in it for almost 60 years. My older brother, myself, and my younger brother have all had extremely close calls, and for each, the other two have been right there by their side, encouraging and providing a backbone of support and courage for them.

Just as my older brother kept me calm and focused before my last throw at my first Drake Relays, I was right there by my younger brother at state when I encouraged him and told him what he needed to do on that last throw. On that final throw, he edged first place by half an inch.

Drake Relays has always been a place of many emotional moments great triumph for the Phelps family. That’s why Drake Relays will always be home to me.

Drake is special to Iowa and track in general, because without it, track wouldn’t be the most participated sport in the state. In addition to that, Drake Relays makes Iowa one of the top competitive states in the country for track and field.

Iowa has anything that compares regarding sponsorship support, local fan support, and rich tradition, all in a community that doesn’t seem too metropolitan, yet has all the amenities to entertain. Most importantly, Drake Relays is orchestrated on a first-class basis with first class people. It’s important to Iowa track people, and it shows.

Diane Nukuri-Iowa
©Boston Herald

Next level Iowa Podcast For March 21, 2017: Diane Nukuri

Layne Anderson and Diane Nukuri ©Jim Kirby

Layne Anderson and Diane Nukuri
©Jim Kirby

On this edition of the Next Level Iowa Podcast we talk with former BigTen Champion for the Iowa Hawkeyes, three-time Olympia from Burundi, Diane Nukuri.  Diane now runs professionally for Asics and finished third last weekend in the highly competitive New York City Half Marathon.  Diane talks with us about her race as she looks ahead to next month’s Boston Marathon.  All this and more on the Next Level Iowa Podcast!

Feature photo: Diane Nukuri-Iowa ©Boston Herald

Jeff Hartwig, Bubba Sparks  and Gary Hunter

Memories From the Drake Relays: Jeff Hartwig

Jeff Hartwig 3Jeff Hartwig is a symbol of all that is good about the Drake Relays.    Hartwig is a 2 time Olympian, a 6 time US champion, the IN American record holder in the Pole Vault at 19’  8 ¼” and an 8 time Drake Relays champ, including 7 in arrow from 1995-2001.  Hartwig’s winning effort of 19’  ¾ from 2007 still stands as both the Relays and Drake Stadium record. (Sam Kendricks jumped 19-1 in 2015, but the competition was held indoors that year).

Feature photo: Jeff Hartwig, Bubba Sparks and Gary Hunter 

Every year in late April hundreds of the best track and field athletes in Iowa gather on the blue oval of Drake Stadium for the annual Drake Relays.  This event not only is a culmination of the best that Iowa has to offer in high school track but many of the world’s greatest track and field athletes have competed in this iconic event.  For me Drake holds a special place in my heart with many great memories.  Drake was always the start of my outdoor season and it was the anticipation of competing in front of the great crowds at Drake that provided much motivation between the indoor season and the time I would arrive in Des Moines.  Come rain or shine I always knew the amazing crowd would show up to watch the athletes perform.

As I have moved beyond my competitive years, I am now privileged to still have the opportunity to come to Des Moines each year as coordinator of the pole vault events at the Relays.  We have seen, Olympic medalists, World Record Holders, American Record Holders and vaulters of many other great accomplishments compete at Drake.  Each year the Drake Relays continues to be a world class event with many of the sport’s greatest performers.

Jeff Hartwig 1I am envious of the many young athletes who attend and compete at the relays.  They have a unique opportunity that I never had as a kid growing up to see some of the sports great stars.  As a high school event, the Drake Relays provides a chance for Iowa’s best athletes to test themselves against competition from all classes.  This event provides the example of what track and field has to offer across all levels and its many years of success is a testament to all the great workers, volunteers, officials and athletes who make it happen.  The Drake Relays is an event that many other meets only aspire to live up to.

dueaf

Memories From the Drake Relays: Jim Duea

The Duea Family

The Duea Family

Jim Duea, as you will read, is more than a casual track fan.  He was raised in a track family.  He was a successful track athlete, a successful track coach and is now the successful Athletic Director of the ever growing Waukee School District.

I will be attending my 48th Drake Relays this spring.  It’s an impressive number, but there are many that can say they have attended that many or more.  What makes that number a little more impressive is that I’m only 52 years old. There aren’t many that can say they have been to the Drake Relays in all but four years of their life.  My father can.  He will attend his 77th Drake Relays this spring just a few weeks before his 79th birthday.   My son has been to 22 Drake Relays in his 27 years.  Track and Field is an important part of our family and “America’s Athletic Classic” has been and will continue to be at the top of our priority list.

 

My family’s ties to the Drake Relays began in 1928 when my grandfather, Ben Duea, competed in his first Drake Relays as a high jumper and sprinter for Iowa State Teacher’s College coached by Art Dickinson.  My grandfather went on to coach several Drake Relays champions while at Valley Junction in the 1930’s and Fort Dodge in the 40’s and 50’s.  A generation later, my father, Jim Duea Sr., pole vaulted and sprinted for Dickinson led Iowa State Teacher’s College teams at the 1958, 1959 and 1960 Drake Relays.  His fondest memories of the Drake Relays are not of competing, but are of the 14 Drake Relays champions he coached at Ames High School.  I was fortunate to compete at Drake beginning in 1982 running for legendary Ames boys track coach John Sletten and ran my last race in 1987 for Chris Bucknam’s Northern Iowa Panthers.  I coached the WDM Valley boys at thirteen Drake Relays.  My son, Ben Duea, medaled at Drake for Waukee, ran for Simpson College and now heads the Ames Boys track program.

 

For almost a century, a least one and as many as three Dueas have been an athlete, a coach or just a fan at every Drake Relays.  And I’m confident that streak will continue for years to come.

 

It’s a given in our family, a tradition.  As I think of what is most important to me about the Drake Relays, the word “tradition” best describes it.  There are so many traditions that make up the Drake Relays.   Some traditions are part of the event itself while other traditions have been formed as a result of the Drake Relays.

 

For me, Drake Relays tradition starts with the coveted Drake Relays medal.  I proudly display my grandfather’s 1928 and 1929 Drake medals in my office.  Those medals, although a little more tarnished and aged, look the same as the medal my son won in 2008 and has the same design as the medals they will award this spring.  The size of the medal has varied through the years, some with a ribbon, some without, but the medal design is a constant.

 

The meet dates are a tradition as well.  Always the last weekend in April which lends itself to another Relays tradition: the weather.  Everyone has a story about the weather at the Drake Relays and unfortunately for most, it’s not about how nice it was.

 

The Drake Relays program is a tradition that could be considered a history book in track and field.  Every event champion’s name and school from every year the event was contested is found in the program.  Every athlete (masters, professional, collegiate, high school and elementary) that competes at the Drake Relays is listed in that year’s program.  Almost all of the legends in Track and Field history competed at the Drake Relays at some point during their career.

 

The announcer is a tradition that sets Drake apart from all other meets.  The iconic voice that electrifies the crowd with a descriptive and informative call.  From the great Jim Duncan to Tom Kroeschel to the current voice of the Drake Relays, Mike Jay, the relays announcer adds entertainment value not found at other big meets.

 

But most important are the thousands of traditions that began and continue each year as a result of the Drake Relays.  Fans with the same seats every year, where a team sets up camp, travel and lodging arrangements, parking spots, lunch plans, practice routines, and reunions are repeated every year because “its just what you do at Drake.”

 

Everyone has their own favorite Drake Relays memory or story.  I remember the proud feeling watching athletes I coached step onto the victory stand to be announced.  I remember Jim Ryun running for Kansas in 1969 and my dad helping me to try to get an autograph (I was 5 years old). I remember warming up in the Drake Fieldhouse right next to Georgia running back and Heisman Trophy winner Herschel Walker.  My favorite memory was in 1994 watching Olympic champion Carl Lewis run the 100m Dash in wet and frigid conditions after snow accumulating in lanes 7 and 8 hindered high school teams in the 4×100 prelims just a few hours earlier.

 

My son’s, my dad’s and my grandfather’s memories and stories are surely different than mine.  But everybody that has been to the Drake Relays has one.  That’s what makes it so special.  That’s what makes it Drake.

Tim O'Neil-Assumption (back row center) New Balance Nationals winning 1600 medley team

Memories from the Drake Relays: Tim O’Neil

Tim O'Neil-Assumption along with other coaches celebrating a fourth state championship

Tim O’Neil-Assumption along with other coaches celebrating a fourth state championship

Tim O’Neill.  Head Track and Field Coach at Davenport Assumption.  He has led Assumption Girls teams to four consecutive Class 3A team titles.  At the 2014 Drake Relays, Davenport Assumption won a record 5 relay titles and 4 of the Assumption girls, who were on 3 of the winning relays, shared Athlete of the Meet honors.

Feature photo: Tim Oneil-Assumption (back row center) celebrates with New Balance Nationals winning 1600 medley team

I remember competing at the Drake Relays in the mid 90’s for Davenport Assumption.  It was my first time getting to experience what all of the upper classmen and coaches were talking about.  The amount of talent that I was surrounded by was electric.  Getting to rub elbows with the best High Schoolers, Collegians and Professionals, all at one venue was incredible.  What was even better was getting to compete in front of thousands of fans.  It was like no other competition I had been a part of. I was hooked.  That was the moment that I knew I had a passion for track & field.

Fast forward to the University of Northern Iowa where I was a two-sport athlete.  I was the starting nose tackle on the football team and part of the track and field throws crew with other talented guys from the state of Iowa.   Because of my obligations with the football team, I had spring practices and the spring Game I had to attend.  I can remember driving myself in my car after spring ball and speeding down the highway to get to the Drake Relays in time so I could compete in the shot put.  I had earned a qualifying mark collegiately.  I had no chance to win or even place.  I did, however, have a chance to compete against some of the best in the country in front of thousands of fans.  I would make those sacrifices to get the opportunity to get throttled by guys like Jamie Beyer, Christian Cantwell and Reese Hoffa.  It didn’t matter.  I got to compete.  That passion was still there.

Currently, I get to share that experience at the Drake Relays with my wife, kids and my high school Track & Field Team at Davenport Assumption.  Being a 3A school, we always feel we have a lot to prove.  We want to race and compete against the best kids the state has to offer.  We have had so many great achievements as a program.  We know that we get a chance to showcase our talents to fans, other schools and have the opportunity to be seen by some of the best college coaches in the world.  I know that if I can get a kid qualified for the Drake Relays, they will share a similar experience that I have for the rest of their life.  It is a special place for Track & Field fans in Iowa.  It is the place that created the passion that I have for the sport of Track & Field.  I will be forever grateful for it.

Ryan Schweizer-Dowling-Notre Dame, Frank Schweizer-Dowling-Mankato St. and Karissa Schweizer-Dowling-Mizzou

Next Level Iowa Podcast For March 14, 2017: Karissa and Frank Schweizer

Ryan Schweizer-Dowling-Notre Dame, Frank Schweizer-Dowling-Mankato St. and Karissa Schweizer-Dowling-Mizzou

Ryan Schweizer-Dowling-Notre Dame, Frank Schweizer-Dowling-Mankato St. and Karissa Schweizer-Dowling-Mizzou

On this week’s edition of the Next Level Iowa Podcast we talk with 2-time National Champion Karissa Schweizer-Dowling-Mizzou and her grandfather, the one, the only Frank Schweizer.  Karissa also shares some exciting news!!!!

We also recap the D1 and D3 Nationals and look ahead to outdoor season.  All this and more on the Next Level Iowa Podcast!

Feature photo: Karissa Schweizer-© Kirby Clarke Onyepunuka-Olear 2017 and Ryan Schweizer ©Fighting Irish Athletics

 

Allen Webb
©Gannett News Media

Memories From the Drake Relays: Alan Webb

Alan Webb ©Courtesy Des Moines Register

Alan Webb
©Courtesy Des Moines Register

Competing at the 2007 Drake Relays proved to be a great choice Alan Webb.  Webb ran his fastest outdoor opener, 3:51.71 at Drake that year, then set the American record, 3:46.91 in Belgium, 3 months later.  Webb was the first high schooler to go under 4:00 for the mile indoors, when he ran 3:59.86 in January of 2001.  Four months later at the Prefontaine Classic, he broke Jim Ryun’s 36 year old high school mile record, running 3:53.43.

This is what the Drake Relays Mile record holder and 2004 Olympian, had to say about America’s Athletic Classic:

Feature photo: Alan Webb ©Gannett News Media

The Drake Relays will always hold a special place in my heart, for the wonderful memories that I have of on and off the track in Des Moines in 2007, when I surprised myself with such a fast time so early in the season in very windy conditions. I put myself right behind Moise Joseph, the pacemaker, through 800 in 1:55. When he dropped out I was in such a good rhythm that I was able to power through the wind to the finish in 3:51 breaking Steve Scotts meet record. Moise and I stayed in touch after the race and became training partners when he moved to Virginia the following year. We are still friends to 10 years later. I had an extra gear that day because the night before the race I went on my first date with the fast, fabulous and future Mrs. Julia Webb, the mother of our two daughters. Julia ran the steeple that day and made the steeple final at US Championship in 2013 (the Hot and Humid year) when they were held in Des Moines at Drake Stadium. Thank you Drake Relays for being the place were athletes can go to create great lifelong memories and create lifelong friendships.

Heather Dorniden Kampf at the Drake Relays
©Jim Kirby 2017

Memories From the Drake Relays: Heather Kampf

Heather Dorniden Kampf at the Drake Relays ©Jim Kirby 2017

Heather Dorniden Kampf at the Drake Relays
©Jim Kirby 2017

Heather Dorniden Kampf was a 8 time All American, and NCAA champion and a Drake Relays regular while competing for the University of Minnesota.  Kampf has since gone on to become one of America’s best in the Road Mile.  She has won four USA Road Mile championships and three Drake Relays Grand Blue Mile titles.  She holds the women’s record for the Grand Blue Mile as well.  She was a member of the 2014 World Championship team, running the 1500.  Recently she finished 2nd to Shelby Houlihan, in the 2 mile run, at the USA Indoor Championships.

Feature photo: Heather Dorniden Kampf at the Drake Relays ©Jim Kirby 2017

My name is Heather Kampf and I have competed at the Drake Relays for the past 11 years. I have always considered it to be like ‘Homecoming’ for the Midwest track and field community. It is more than just a track meet, it has become synonymous with spring and the start of outdoor track and field…late April is ‘Drake Season’ in my mind!!

The entire Drake Relays Week of festivities and events does such an incredible job of making Track and Field exciting, accessible, and popular amongst every level of fan. I love the way Drake has brought Track into the town- whether it’s Pole Vault in the street, or High Jump in a grocery store, it gets the sport in the public eye! Even better yet, fans can get out and be active too! Everyone from kids to masters athletes can participate in the Grand Blue Mile before they stick around to watch the Pro’s tear through the streets of Des Moines. It is in these ways that I feel the Drake Relays serves as a fantastic liaison between track and field and the general community- we need more people talking about, participating in, and supporting the sport to keep it strong and lively!

From the standpoint of an athlete, what could be better than a relay meet? It’s refreshingly different from the ‘status quo’ of normal track meets and perhaps the only time throughout the year that some runners get to pass a baton around the track. The element of chasing a common goal with your teammates makes every memory you make that much more special, especially when one considers the history and prestige behind the event and the stadium. As a collegiate athlete for the University of Minnesota I was blessed to run quite a few victory laps around the blue oval with my teammates and our Drake Relays Flags, and those laps will be memories I will cherish for life.

For athletes at any level of the game- high school, college, professionals, and masters – you can count on finding high caliber competition to bring out your very best at the Drake Relays. As a professional now, I really appreciate the opportunity to compete close to home, against great fields, for a very large prize money purse! It is so impressive what the Relays have done to elevate their Pro events to the next level. For all these reasons and more, I certainly intend to continue to compete, make memories, and (hopefully!) put on a great show for the awesome fans who brave whatever weather Mother Nature decides to throw at us every year around Drake Season!

Shelby Houlihan-SC East-Arizona St
©Jim Kirby

Memories From the Drake Relays: Shelby Houlihan

Shelby Houlihan-SC East-ASU ©Sun Devils Athletics

Shelby Houlihan-SC East-ASU
©Sun Devils Athletics

Shelby Houlihan was a 9 time Drake Relays champion and 8 time State champion at Sioux City East.  She was a NCAA 1500M champion and 10 time All American at Arizona State.  She finished 2nd in the 5,000M at the 2016 US Olympic Trials and 11th in the 5,000M Olympic final in Rio.

What may be a normal pre-race experience to others competing at the Drake Relays, this familiar pre-race experience is one of my favorites. I spend the hour before my race going through my warm up routine. After my warm up, I head to the check-in tents behind the stands and wait for them to call my name and give me my hip numbers. As they line us up to walk down to the track, my heart starts pumping with adrenaline and excitement. Every time I walk on to that track, I can’t help but smile. As we walk around the track to the start line, I can hear people cheering for me. I stay focused and I keep looking straight ahead. I probably don’t know most of these people shouting my name, but I do know that I don’t want to let them down. I line up on the start line on that familiar blue track and wait for Mike Jay to introduce the field. Everything feels the same except for perhaps, the jersey that I wear. This is one of my favorite places to be. This is my home and these are my people. I close my eyes, take a deep breath, and appreciate this moment.

Throughout high school, the Drake Relays was THE track meet. It was where the best kids in Iowa ran against each other, regardless of division. It was more important to me than any other meet in high school and still is one of the most important meets to me even though I don’t always get to compete there as much as I would like. I’m sure I’m not alone in saying that I have some of my best memories from this track meet even though the outcome of the race may not have always been what I had wanted. The athletes that I competed against, there, helped teach me how to lose, how to compete, how to use every ounce of myself, how to stay humble when I was able to win, and ultimately, how to love this sport. I am a better athlete for the variety of outcomes that I had at the Drake Relays and I am grateful for the opportunities that I was given to compete there.

Shelby Houlihan-SC East-Arizona St 
©Erik Aguilar www.painani.org

Next Level Iowa Podcast For March 8, 2014: NAIA and USATF Wrap, D1,D3 Preview

Shelby Houlihan-SC East-Arizona St  ©Erik Aguilar www.painani.org

Shelby Houlihan-SC East-Arizona St
©Erik Aguilar www.painani.org

On this edition of the Next Level Iowa Podcast we take a look back at the USATF Indoor Nationals in Albuquerque, NM featuring our Iowans such as Shelby Houlihan and adopted Iowan Erik Sowinski,  We also recap the NAIA Nationals and then look ahead to this week’s NCAA D1 and D3 Nationals.

Feature photo: Shelby Houlihan-SC East-Arizona St  ©Erik Aguilar www.painani.org

All this along with Mike and my charming wit and insight….(something like that 😉 on the Next Level Iowa Podcast!