There is no doubt that Pioneer running has a legacy, from its multitude of All-Americans to its winnings of national titles. But who would have ever thought that the legendary running program could have excelled from those elite standards?
But recently the program gained even more publicity when two of its former runners qualified and raced at the 2012 Olympic Marathon Trials.
Leo Kormanik, 29, and Ryan Kienzle, 27, both took their running shoes and headed down to Houston, Texas on Jan. 14 for the chance of a lifetime to compete in the Olympic trials.
“I was so ecstatic, I didn’t know what to do,” Kienzle said. “When I crossed the line after I had qualified to go to the trials, I kneeled down and said a little prayer right when I got done. It was so surreal and I was just living the moment of it.”
Kienzle raced his qualifying standard back in November at the New Philadelphia Half Marathon with the time of 1:04.38; shaving off more than a minute from his previous record time of 1:05.50.
“I knew halfway through I was well under the pace,” Kienzle said. “I just had to hang with the guys and really push to the line with them.”
[pullquote]He is so supportive and very motivational and that is what I needed,” Kienzle said. “I ran into some problems with other coaching situations where I just didn’t have that relationship. He is realistic but also very inspiring. I think him coaching me has definitely helped out.”[/pullquote]
Kienzle’s fellow former teammate, Kormanik, had qualified a month before Kienzle at the Columbus Marathon with the time of 2:18.12.
The Olympic Marathon standards are set in two ways for the race. One, if a runner runs a 1:05.00 half marathon, and two, if a runner runs a 2:19.00 full marathon.
“Coach [Matthew] Reneker told me I was going to do it,” Kienzle said. “He said how I could run 1:04.30 and I was pretty darn close to that.”
Reneker, also known as the Pioneers assistant distance cross coach, took over Kienzle’s training plan and made some pretty remarkable changes for both him and his running.
“He is so supportive and very motivational and that is what I needed,” Kienzle said. “I ran into some problems with other coaching situations where I just didn’t have that relationship. He is realistic but also very inspiring. I think him coaching me has definitely helped out.”
Support and conservative training is what Kienzle believed got him to this lifelong dream, but Reneker believed that Kienzle himself got him to where he is today.
“Ryan is a hardworking, determined follower of Christ who has been able to balance his priorities well,” Reneker said. “He is successful not only in running, but in his work and relationships.”
Both runners were 30-50 seconds under the qualifying standard and were ecstatic about their opportunity to run in such a prestigious race. But after celebrating their victories, both runners knew it was time to focus on the trials.
After taking off on their planes to Houston, Texas, Kienzle and Kormanik made their way to the race of their lives. Both athletes gave it their all and had memories to remember and leasons to learn for the future.
Twenty miles in and feeling not at his best, Kienzle had to pull himself from the race due to fatigue and nutrition problems. Kormanik finished in the top 50, placing 45th with the time of 2:18.57.
Both runners had an experience of a lifetime, and though the end wasn’t what they had thought, they each left the race with their heads held high and determined to learn from their experience at the 2012 Olympic trials.
Kienzle’s plan for the future is to get back to being healthy and to start looking toward the 2016 Olympic trials, racing to his dream.
Kormanik is also looking forward to competing again in the trials someday and is looking forward to working toward his goal of only becoming a better runner.
Tina Oprean is a staff writer for The Aviso AVW.