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Jeff Kolpack, Published June 18 2012

Sprint to the finish: Former NDSU star hopes to wrap up track career with trip to Olympics


The storied career of one of North Dakota State’s greatest female runners ever will end either in Eugene, Ore., or London. Either way, Laura Januszewski immersed herself in a quest for the Olympic Games and hasn’t regretted it.

She didn’t do it alone, either. Her husband, former Bison runner Jake Januszewski, was along for the ride that began eight years ago as a lightly regarded freshman at NDSU.

“He’s been extremely supportive of me since the day we’ve been dating,” Laura said. “It’s never been, ‘Hey, do this for four years and then get real.’ He’s been there by my side, totally supportive of my goals.”

The support system also includes her coach, and NDSU head coach, Ryun Godfrey. It’s Godfrey who’s been the designer behind her workouts, a plan that saw her run a sub-2:02 in the 800 meters, her specialty, that automatically qualified her for the U.S. Olympic Track and Field Trials that begin this week at the University of Oregon.

It’s been a professional career that has seen thousands of airline miles and several countries. Now 26 years old, she’s seen more of the world than most of her ex-NDSU teammates will combined.

“She’s been getting faster and faster every year,” Jake said. “But it’s getting to the point where she’s ready to start moving on in the next chapter in her life. There comes a point in time when everyone has to make a decision. It’s definitely a hard decision to make, but that’s the way she feels. There’s not a better way to go out than with the Trials.”

If that is the end, or if the Olympics in London is the end, another phase of life will begin for Januszewskis. They’re building a house in Pelican Rapids, Minn. Laura already has a job as a high school business teacher in Breckenridge, Minn., next year. The school has a well-qualified track and cross country coach if it needs one.

“I don’t know if it’s hit me yet, that this is the last go-around,” Laura said. “I’m sure the emotions will be more than I think. It’s kind of weird to think it’s here already.”

Jake is a physical therapist at Essentia Health in Detroit Lakes, Minn. He likens setting up a home in Pelican Rapids to making the switch from a college lifestyle to the adult world. So does Laura.

“I told myself that after I graduated from NDSU that I would give it a go until 2012,” she said. “I decided if I hadn’t reached my goals by then that I had a great run. It might be different if Jake wasn’t around; training does take up a lot of time and energy to compete at a higher level. But I’m ready to move on to a normal life.”

She’ll enter the Trials ranked eighth, with the top three getting spots on the Olympic team. She sat in third place until last week when a flurry of sub 2-minute times knocked her down a few qualifying steps.

Ranked third just ahead of Januszewski is a familiar face: Team Minnesota USA runner Heather Kampf from Inver Grove Heights, Minn. Kampf, who went to Rosemount High School – Januszewski is from Burnsville High School in the Twin Cities – was a nine-time all-American at the University of Minnesota.

Kampf reached the “A” standard with a 2:00.41 while Januszewski is fourth at 2:01.05, which she ran at a meet in Lignano, Italy. The 800 preliminary round in the field of 32 is scheduled for Friday. The semifinals are a day later and the finals are set for Monday.

Put it this way: the three survivors will have earned their ticket to London.

“The last two years, the 800 has taken off,” Godfrey said. “Some of the top runners in the U.S. are also some of the top runners in the world. Laura has made some improvements but she hasn’t as much as others. If she can get in the semis, I think she can get in the top three.”

One thing is certain: she’ll have to improve on recent performances. She ran a 2:06 last week in the Victoria Track Classic in British Columbia, her third straight sub-par performance.

“You have to get yourself in the right spot in the race,” Laura said. “In the 800, there’s not much time to make mistakes. In the end, it’s about getting to the top four spots and moving on to the next round.”

She came to Fargo as Laura Hermanson. She’ll be leaving a sport with a different last name and a whole lot of memories.

“We’ve traveled to a lot of different places that we never would have gone if it were not for track,” Jake said.

Forum reporter Jeff Kolpack can be reached at (701) 241-5546.

Kolpack’s NDSU media blog can be found

at www.areavoices.com/bisonmedia