Running for the red, white and blue


Track star Pat Feeney is having trouble keeping up.

He is going as fast as he can, but the pace has proved too much for him, and he’s beginning to lag behind.

There are just too many people to thank.

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In the hours after anchoring Team USA’s 1,600-meter relay win at Saturday’s Penn Relays — one of the most prestigious track events in the world — the New Palestine and Notre Dame graduate’s cellphone has hardly stopped vibrating.

Hundreds of friends, family and fans have congratulated him after he clocked a personal best 48.84 in helping the Stars and Stripes hold off the Bahamians and representatives of six other countries in the USA vs. the World event in Philadelphia.

“It’s been a crazy past 24 hours,” Feeney said. “I’ve been getting tons of calls, texts, Tweets and Facebook messages, and I’ve tried to get back to everybody. I’m trying to let everyone know that I definitely appreciate their support. I feel incredibly blessed.”

With this weekend’s performance, Feeney — who has designs of competing in the 2016 Rio Olympic Games — has thrust himself into the national spotlight among sprinters.

Arriving to this point, however, has been a whirlwind for the 23-year-old. It started less than two weeks ago in Walnut, California.

It was there, at the Mt. SAC Relays, that Feeney bested a top-flight field of international competitors in the 400-meter dash.

A day later, he received an even greater honor.

“Congratulations,” the email from the USA Track and Field team began. “You have been added as a member of the Men’s 4×400 relay pool for USA vs the World at the Penn Relays.”

Feeney, a five-time All-American for the Irish, was one of five sprinters asked to join the team and compete for one of its four spots.

For Feeney, the invitation was not only an affirmation of years of dedicated training but also the thrill of his running career. He had been called upon, for the first time, to wear the red, white and blue across his chest.

He had been called upon to stand among former Olympic competitors and medalists and call them teammates. Feeney said the invitation was the defining moment of his running career.

Little did he know that within a week he would surpass that moment.

Not long after arriving at the University of Pennsylvania, the host site of the nation’s oldest and largest track and field event, Feeney learned that not only would he compete in the 1,600 relay but would serve as anchor.

“Most coaches put their best go-getter at anchor,” said Alan Turner, Feeney’s track coach at Notre Dame and current trainer. “Someone who is going to be aggressive, who won’t fold under the pressure. I don’t know how (USA coach Dennis Mitchell) decided who would run where, but I know from having watched Pat run anchor for us a ton at Notre Dame, when he has a lead, I know he’ll hold it.”

From more than 1,000 miles away in Des Moines, Iowa, on Saturday, Turner watched on a tablet as Feeney showed the nearly 50,000 in attendance and those watching on TV across the world what Turner had seen him do time and time again.

He persevered.

On the final leg of the relay, Feeney took the baton from teammate Clayton Barros and jumped out in front of the Bahamas’ Ramon Miller.

As he raced toward the finish line, Miller — an Olympic gold and silver medalist at the 2012 London Olympics — threatened to overtake him, but the long strides of the former Dragons track, football and basketball standout kept him just ahead of Miller’s desperate lunge.

Feeney let out a triumphant howl upon crossing the finish line; and after catching his breath, a wide smile swept across his face as he began to celebrate with teammates.

He never doubted he’d hold on, he said, but wasn’t sure how close it would be until the final stretch.

“I knew I had him with probably about 30 or 40 meters left,” Feeney said. “On the final turn I felt him right there behind me, but I felt strong; and when I didn’t see coming on outside those few meters that’s when I knew.”

In the hours following, Feeney began to realize how important the victory and his run were not just to countrymen but to his own long-term aspirations.

Feeney’s star turn at the Mt. SAC Relays caught the eye of one of the biggest sponsors in the industry: Under Armour.

After his first-place run in that meet, Under Armour sent Feeney starter gear, including shoes, shorts, shirts, etc.

Nothing is in writing, yet, but Feeney’s agents have told him his stock is soaring and that they are in talks with people from the apparel company.

“The exposure from this weekend was invaluable,” said Feeney, who has put off medical school while he chases his Olympic dream. “People in the U.S. know who I am now. They know how I can run and hopefully they want to keep seeing me out there.”

“They would be fools not to sign him,” Turner added.

The money garnered from a sponsorship would be a big boost for Feeney, who has depended on his savings, his parents’ generosity and donations from supporters to fund his training and travel expenses up to this point.

If nothing else, though, the win has left Feeney with a new, deep supply of confidence from which to draw in the coming weeks.

He’ll need it, too. Though his performances at the Penn Relays were undoubtedly the signature moment of his sprinting career, Feeney hopes they were a mere pit stop on his road to Rio.

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After Pat Feeney’s Team USA 4×400 relay-clinching run at last weekend’s Penn Relays, the New Palestine and Notre Dame graduate will continue his road to the 2016 Rio Olympic Games this weekend in the Caribbean. 

Feeney will compete in the 400 meter dash at Saturday’s Meeting International d’Athlétisme de Guadeloupe. The event was founded in 2005 and has played host to dozens of past Olympic athletes.

Last year’s winner was Trinidad and Tobago’s Lalonde Gordeon, who finished in 44.91 seconds. The runner-up was the Bahamas’ Ramon Miller (45.21), Feeney’s final-leg competitor at the Penn Relays.