By JOSH SIGLER KOKOMO TRIBUNE
---- — She represented her country as a member of the United States Track and Field junior team in a foreign country over the weekend, and made it back to Indiana just in time to experience her first day as a college student Tuesday at Indiana University.
Just another week in the life of Bethany Neeley.
The growing legend that is the Neeley saga had another chapter added to it over the weekend, as she finished fifth in the Junior Pan-American Games’ 3,000-meter steeplechase in Medellin, Colombia in 11:13.51 in just her second competitive race in the event, which features 35 barrier jumps including seven water. Peru’s Zulema Katia Arenas Haucasi won the event in 10:28.94. Fellow American Briana Nerud took second in 10:46.88. (The Tribune mistakenly reported Neeley’s place in Monday’s section.)
So, which experience was less stressful?
“Definitely representing my country,” Neeley said. “College is a little overwhelming right now. [The Junior Pan-Am Games] was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Unless you make the Olympics — this was my last opportunity to [represent my country]. I just tried to soak it all in. I felt a little homesick when I got there, but you have to remind yourself how many people don’t get to experience this. Instead of worrying about getting behind in college, you just kind of have to let it sink in. I’m really glad I got to enjoy it and experience it, but now it’s time to get back into a normal routine.”
Neeley’s journey to making the junior national team was an unexpected one. After winning her second straight title in the 1,600 run and contributing to the winning 4x800 relay team at the IHSAA state meet in early June, she and her family were going on vacation before she and her twin sister, Brittany, got the opportunity to compete at the U.S. Junior Nationals in Iowa. Bethany finished second in the steeplechase to make the national team.
“We were planning on being done with track after the all-star [Midwest Meet of Champions] meet,” Bethany said. “That was June 15.”
Her trip to Colombia meant she would miss her first week of cross country practice at Indiana, where she returned in the early morning hours Tuesday. Bethany says she feels a little bit behind, but even though she competed in the steeplechase, she’s been working out for longer distance running most of the summer.
“I went to [the Junior Pan-Am Games] having been training for this fall’s season,” she explained. “[Colombia] was more about the experience; The [steeplechase] was the least of my worries. I don’t need to do any more steeple drills and can continue training on a higher level. My goal right now is to make the varsity team [at IU], and the team has a really big goal of making it to nationals. But, right now I’m just trying to get in the flow of things and competing for the team.”
Tuesday was the first day of classes at IU. After arriving in Bloomington around midnight Tuesday, Bethany had time to get in a running workout Tuesday morning before classes.
“It was a long day,” she said. “The first day of class was a lot of syllabus stuff and learning where everything is around campus. But, no homework. So, that’s a plus.”
And, in a lot of ways, a trip to another continent to compete in an event fairly new to her was a lot like the average first day of college for an incoming freshman.
“Meeting new people was the big thing,” Bethany said. “You see these names and times from across the country, but you never really get to put faces to them. It was special to experience USA Track and Field and what it was all about and all the support. They treat you like you’re the best in the world.”