“Don’t be afraid to give up the good to go for the great.”
The quote is attributed to John D. Rockefeller, one of the richest men in modern history.
It also could be considered the route taken by New Palestine and Notre Dame middle distance running star Samuel Voelz.
A good cross country runner, Voelz switched from the long runs to the 400-meter dash and eventually to the 800-meter run, where he became a state champion at New Pal and All-American at Notre Dame.
There were offers out of high school from some pretty high Division I schools, but Voelz had his eyes set on Notre Dame, which, as a lifelong fan of the school, was always his ‘great.’
“All my Christmas gifts from grandparents and parents were usually Notre Dame football blankets, Notre Dame sweatshirts or golden helmets to play with on my shelf,” Voelz said of his fandom for the Fighting Irish. “A long with (New Palestine’s) Pat (Feeney, who also ran successfully at New Pal and Notre Dame) being a big influence, my parents were a huge influence on going to a school that was top tier athletically and academically.”
Voelz was only the second track and field state champion out of New Palestine, and the first male. Lorrie Swegman won the 880-yard run in 1976. The only other male track and field champion from Hancock County was Greenfield-Central’s Jim Gluys, who won the discus in 1982.
Voelz won his title in the 800 in 2017. He was also part of a state runner-up 4×800 Dragon relay team and third-place 4×400 relay group.
The 800 was his race.
In 2021, he qualified for the Olympic Trials in the event and, after being seeded 22nd, placed sixth in the finals. He’s the Notre Dame school-record holder in the event (1:46.39). He was a first-team All-American during the 2021 indoor season and second-team All-American in the 2021 outdoor campaign.
He was on a national champion distance medley relay team in 2019, earning first-team All-American in that event, too. There were multiple Atlantic Coast Conference championships along the way.
At New Palestine, Voelz had always been a strong distance runner, but he had been sidelined frequently with injuries. Much of it could have been attributed to a quick growth spurt. He grew four inches between his junior and senior years.
As a senior, it was time for a change.
It was a chance to go from good to great.
“For the longest time, early in high school, I was a miler, 2-miler, I thought I was a cross country kid,” Voelz said. “I was trying to make it work on the cross country course and I was pretty decent my freshman and sophomore year. I think with the injuries and my body type, I wasn’t going to make it as a distance runner. Once I realized that, I talked with coach (Chuck) Myers and I asked to try the 400.”
The time trial went well. It went so well, Myers thought he’d done something wrong with his stop-watch.
“We did a time trial, middle of December. We were going to do a 400 and he ran a really fast 400 for December. I had him hand-timed in the high 49 seconds, low 50s,” Myers said. “I thought to myself that I might have messed it up. There’s no way he’s running this fast. It was the middle of December. I told him the time, but said it might be off a little bit, but in my mind I knew he did run pretty fast.”
With times this fast in the 400 and a history of being a strong cross country runner, Myers and the New Palestine coaching staff thought, even though Voelz could have been a state champion in the 400, they felt more comfortable he could do it as an 800 runner.
“He could have ran the 400 at state and won it, but I thought the 800 was more guaranteed he could win,” Myers said. “That’s what we decided. That’s what he did and he did a pretty good job of it.”
The change led to everything Voelz wanted to do and be.
He wanted to go to Notre Dame and follow the footsteps of New Pal’s Feeney, who earned All-American status with the Irish. To get there it would be as an 800 runner, something he hadn’t done until the middle of his senior year.
“I look back at it a lot and where running has taken me,” Voelz said. “I’ve raced in Kenya and I’ve raced all over the country. It is pretty crazy to look back to think if that change didn’t happen a lot of stuff in my life wouldn’t have happened, whether it be getting into Notre Dame, travel to all of those places, or being able to run as fast as I have.”
“I owe a lot of that credit to my high school coaches. I was blessed to have coach Myers and coach Eric Branch early in my career. It has an exponential effect when you have good coaches early. The coaches at New Palestine are probably some of the best coaches in the country. They could easily be college coaches if they wanted to be.”
Myers gives the credit right back to Voelz.
“It was all on him,” Myers said. “He worked so hard. He didn’t want to lose to anyone. The desire not to lose was there even more than the desire to win. It was the same with Pat.”