PORTLAND — When Pat Feeney enrolled as a freshman at the University of Notre Dame in 2010, the New Palestine graduate was under the impression that his days of highly-competitive track and field were coming to a close — four years down the road, at least.
With dreams of becoming a doctor, in orthopedics at that, Feeney, who finished second at the IHSAA State Finals in the 400-meter dash his junior and senior seasons of high school, had every intention on focusing on academics first and track and field second.
“My deciding factor was where I wanted a degree from after four years,” Feeney said. “I only thought I would be running track for those four years of college. I didn’t think it would lead to anything.”
His associate head coach had other plans, though.
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Alan Turner, who took over the head coaching position at Notre Dame two seasons ago, noticed something special with Feeney, who had yet to fully grow into his body — or potential. His feeling was that, although already quick, Feeney could go faster, much faster.
He was right.
Feeney, who is currently putting medical school on hold to focus on a new dream, followed his successful high school career as a Dragon with an impressive campaign as a member of the Fighting Irish, dropping his time each year by nearly a half-second while becoming a five-time All-American.
And after grabbing the sixth and final spot at Indoor United States Championships last weekend, the 24-year-old will compete this weekend on the United States Indoor World Championship Track and Field Team in Portland, Oregon.
Out of 20 U.S. competitors, Feeney narrowly made the cut and will compete on the “4×4 relay pool,” with the top two finishers on the team scheduled to run the open 400 this weekend.
Making the team also inches Feeney, who owns a personal best time of 45.56, one step closer to competing in the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro later this year in August — although it is certainly anything but guaranteed.
While Feeney currently is running times higher than he’d like, the former three-sport athlete at New Palestine is hoping to drop to around 45 seconds flat as soon as possible. If not, the Rio Olympics games could be out of reach.
Currently running in the 46 second range, Feeney said he believes he is on pace to reach his mark when the outdoor season begins in April.
But even with the pressure, Feeney said he is living a life with few complaints. He knows the work he put in to reach this point. Receiving his red, white and blue gear made it all worthwhile.
“Getting that stuff for the first time and officially being a part of the team was cool,” Feeney said.
In April, Feeney still was relatively unknown in the track and field world, nationally speaking. However, at the Mt. SAC Relays in Walnut, California, Feeney topped a class of well known competitors.
A week later, he received an email asking to join Team USA. Two weeks after that, Feeney found himself anchoring the men’s 1,600-meter relay team to a first place finish at the Penn Relays — the oldest track and field competition in the country, which is located in Philadelphia Pennsylvania.
He was a stranger no more. Under Armour took notice, sending him new gear including shoes, shirts and shorts. It was a step in the right direction after battling feelings of giving up when the competition — or money for that matter — was too stiff.
Now, though, Feeney, who spent time this year training with Turner in South Bend after graduation, realizes he can compete with the best. And although from a small town, no stage has been too large — though it has been intimidating at times.
“Right now it hasn’t really sunk in, but I can’t wait to put on that uniform and race,” Feeney said. “That will be the best part.”
The Indoor World Championships will begin today at the Oregon Convention Center. Feeney and fellow team members will compete in the 1,600-meter relay on Saturday. The finals will take place Sunday.
For updates on Feeney and Team USA, follow him on Twitter at @Mr_FEENEY.
2010 New Palestine Graduate
Member of Team USA Track and Field
1,600-meter relay team
2015 Notre Dame Graduate, five-time All-American
Fastest time: 45.56
Goal: 45 or below
IAAF World Indoor Championships
Portland, Oregon at the Oregon Convention Center
Thursday: 6 p.m.
Friday: 8:30 p.m.
Saturday: 8:30 p.m. (1,600-meter relay)
Sunday: 3 p.m.