When the idea of competing in the steeplechase in college was first brought up during her recruiting process, Hope Schmelzle's initial reaction was to laugh.
But now over a year later, the Wheaton Warrenville South graduate will be representing the USA Junior National track team in the steeplechase at the IAAF World Junior Championships on July 22 to 27 at the University of Oregon.
"Everyone was saying, you could do the steeplechase," Schmelzle said. "And I was like, what, no way. There is no way I'm jumping hurdles, that looks ridiculous.
"I never would have imagined myself here a year ago."
Schmelzle had a familiarity with the event thanks to older sister Jill, who participated in the steeplechase while at Benedictine University, and having grown up watching the Olympics. So after some prodding from Purdue distance coach Dave Hartman, she decided to give it a try.
"At first I was awful," she said. "I was a little discouraged because I wasn't that good at it. But coach Hartman kept pushing for it and it happened. [Purdue male track athlete] Tate Schienbein, who competed for Team USA last year, told me that it would be rough at first but when you keep practicing, you are going to get it. That made me feel more confident and once I trained a little more, I fell in love with it.
"If you are willing to work through the rough patches, there is a light at the end of the tunnel."
It was also Hartman's idea for Schmelzle to compete at the USATF Junior Championships July 5 and 6 (also in Eugene, Oregon), with the top two finishers in every event becoming members of the USA Junior National Team. Only those that don't turn 20 this calender year were eligible.
"At first I was hesitant, it's been a long season," said Schmelzle, who is also on the cross country team at Purdue. "But he thought I had a chance to qualify for the team. I figured why not, I'm only 19, it's right in front of me and it's a once in a lifetime opportunity. Now I'm so glad I did it."
The incoming college sophomore ended up coming in as the runner-up in the 3,000-meter steeplechase, earning the second and final spot, with a time of 10:35.19.
"When I secured that spot, it was so cool," she said. "It was just so surreal, I cant believe I will be wearing a USA jersey. I was so excited to go there and represent Purdue and the Big Ten, and now getting to represent on an even larger scale is awesome."
Once at the World Junior Championships, Schmelzle, who is in the nursing program at Purdue, has a goal of setting a new personal record, which currently is a time of 10:23 she registered at the Big Ten meet.
"I'm hoping to get under 10:20 if possible," she said. "It all depends on how I feel and how the race goes out. I just want to get out there and race and hopefully the race carries me through."
What: IAAF World Junior Championships
When: July 22 to 27
Where: Hayward Field, Eugene, Ore.
More info: oregon14.com