SOUTH BEND — It is common for a top-flight athlete to declare his desire to compete against the best in the world. It is rare said athlete is ever allowed the opportunity.
New Palestine High School graduate and track star Pat Feeney can say he’s raced the best in the world. And lost. Actually, Feeney can say he raced against the best in the world and was smoked. A few times.
During Feeney’s career at Notre Dame, he earned the unique honor of racing Kirani James, the Grenada-born sprinter who would go on to win the 400-meter gold at the London Olympics a year after allowing Feeney, and the rest of the field, to eat his dust while wearing crimson at the University of Alabama.
“He killed me,” Feeney recalls with a chuckle. “But he also came up and said ‘good job’ to everyone he beat. He was that type of guy. And for a guy with that talent to have that kind of attitude, it’s pretty cool.”
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It was for that reason Feeney sat in front of his TV, watching the Olympic 400-meter finals and cheering on James.
That and he wanted to watch what it was like for someone he knew, someone he ran alongside — if only briefly — to have his dream come true. After he watched James celebrate, Feeney began looking up the splits of the runners who competed in the 400 at the Olympics with one thought in his mind.
What was it going to take?
It was then he saw the number that could change his life: 45.0. It is the number of seconds he would need to sprint 400 meters in order to have a realistic shot at qualifying for the U.S. national team before the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.
The number intimidated him at the time. Today, 45.0 is within his reach.
”A small window”
After graduating pre-med from Notre Dame last year, Feeney faced a life-altering decision.
He could either begin trying to chase down his dream of wearing the stars and stripes across his chest, or he could begin the next part of his life — attending medical school, where he would pursue a career in orthopedics.
The decision was not easy. Foregoing his scholastic future while not taking on full employment presented daunting financial questions.
Not only would he have to part with his savings, but he also would have to rely heavily on the generosity of his parents, friends and family for support.
Asking for their help, especially when he could not be sure their investments would guarantee his spot among the country’s best, was not something he took lightly. As graduation neared, he wrestled with the decision.
Then, a longtime mentor and friend provided him with all the information he would need to come to a resolution.
“My coach, coach (Alan) Turner, told me something. He said, ‘There’s only a small window of time that you’re in the best shape of your life,’” Feeney recalled. “He said, ‘You won’t have the ability to compete in the Olympics forever. Eventually, that goes away. But you can go to school any time you want for the rest of your life.’”
With that, Feeney understood and appreciated the rare opportunity he had earned through years of hard work. He decided to forgo medical school and stay in South Bend to train with Turner.
Though pursuit of the dream would be costly, it would be worth it in the end.
”One of the best I’ve ever coached”
Feeney is no longer the kid who was blown away by Janes.
Back then, he was still young, a freshman, a runner still growing into his body and still learning how to capitalize on his talent.
Since then, the gap between he and James has closed.
When they first competed, the burgeoning Irish star ran the 400 in about 47 seconds, compared to James’ near 45.
More than four years later, Feeney’s personal best clocks in at 45.56 seconds.
He has shaved close to a half-second off his time every year, and Turner sees no reason Feeney’s pattern of improvement cannot continue.
“Pat has gotten better and better each year I’ve coached him,” Turner said. “I’ve had some pretty good athletes run for me; Pat is one of the best I’ve ever coached. .. Obviously he can’t keep taking a half-second off his time. That has to stop eventually, but I won’t put a ceiling on what he can do. I have no idea how good he can eventually become. What I do know is that he’s a young man — 23 years old — with tremendous upside, entering his prime.”
Turner, a three-time All-American runner at Indiana University, cautioned against expecting Feeney to hit and/or breach the 45-second benchmark before next July at the 2016 Olympic Team Trials in Eugene, Oregon, or at all.
“There’s only a dozen or so guys in the world who run in the 44s,” said Turner, who also knows that only six Americans qualify for the national team. “There are no guarantees, but Pat has put himself in a position where he has a chance. But he has a ways to go.”
His Road to Rio
The sooner Feeney hits 45 flat, the better.
Along with the feeling of accomplishment he’s sure to experience, it could also be accompanied by something more tangibly rewarding: sponsorship.
Feeney is not the only one who knows a 45-second 400 provides a runner with an excellent chance at qualifying for the national team.
So do Nike, Adidas, Asics and Under Armor, all of whom want elite athletes wearing their apparel.
If Feeney were to hit 45 seconds flat at a major meet in the next year-and-a-half, his agents have told him they will have “no problem” securing sponsorship.
That is a big goal for Feeney, who said he hates having to borrow money from his parents and take donations from friends and family.
“I had a scholarship at Notre Dame, so my parents were OK about helping me out now, but I want to pay them back,” he said.
As for donations, Feeney has set up an account at a crowdsourcing and fundraising site called gofundme.com for anyone who wants to contribute to his cause.
In the three months since he set up the account, 23 people have donated $3,750 to Feeney, most of which will cover traveling expenses to places such as China, Mexico and Finland.
It is at these places Feeney has a chance to show sponsors what he can do as well as have shot at winning prize money.
The sooner he can do those things, the sooner he can begin paying back his parents and taking down the donation sites.
“I really want to do this on my own,” Feeney said. “But right now, that’s not possible, so I really appreciate everyone who has helped me. I couldn’t be doing this without them.”
The Day to Day
Feeney trains for about three hours a day. Usually the work entails weightlifting, stretching, treatment and, of course, running.
He uses much of the the remainder of time working toward his other future goals.
Feeney currently is enrolled in a biology class at IU South Bend. He explained that while he is dedicated to his training, he also wants to be as prepared as possible for the next part of his life.
Feeney also volunteers at St. Joseph’s Regional Medical Center, where he has reaffirmed his desire to become a doctor.
“I enjoy it a lot,” Feeney said of his work at the hospital. “I’m only doing small stuff right now, but I’ve gotten very comfortable in that setting. It’s nice knowing that I’m going to love what I want to do with my life.”
That said, he is more than happy keeping his work at the hospital strictly to a volunteer basis.
“Being able to wear the ND across by chest meant a lot,” Feeney said. “But to have earned the responsibility of wearing the American flag on my chest, that would mean so much more. … I’m kind of speechless just thinking about it. All I can say is that I would cherish the opportunity.”
To help fund Feeney’s pursuit, visit gofund.me/pfeeney.
Patrick Feeney’s athletics accomplishments at New Palestine and Notre Dame.
- Eight-time letter-winner in track and field, football and basketball.
- Six-time all-conference selection between the three sports.
- Broke school, conference and sectional record in 400 meters.
- Broke school, conference record in 4×400-meter relay.
- Second at state meet as a junior in the 400.
- All-American with Distance Meley Relay team
- Won indoor and outdoor 400 BIG EAST titles
- Two-time all-BIG EAST indoors – 400 & 4×400 relay.
- BIG EAST Indoor Champion – 400.
- All-BIG EAST Outdoor 400.
- School record holder in 4×400 relay.
- Competed at NCAA Outdoor Championships.
- School record holder in 400.
- All-American – 400.
- Three-time BIG EAST champion in indoor 400.
- All-BIG EAST Indoors – 400, 4×400 relay.
- NCAA Outdoor Championships: 4×400 relay, ninth place.
- ACC Outdoor Championships: 400, fourth place; 4×400 relay, fourth place.
- NCAA Indoor Championships. 4×400 relay, first place; 400, seventh place.
Information courtesy of Notre Dame Athletics
Name: Pat Feeney
Hometown: New Palestine
Graduate: New Palestine High School (2011), Notre Dame (2014)
Parents: Daniel and Lori Feeney
Goal: To make the U.S. Track and Field Team and participate in the 2016 Rio Olympics. To help fund Feeney’s dream, contribute at gofund.me/pfeeney.