The Daily Iowan

Iowa men’s track captain leading more than just the pack


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Iowa senior Erik Sowinski once believed he didn’t belong in a Division-I track and field program. He put those doubts to rest with his performances on the track long ago.

Sowinski is a five-time All-American, holds school indoor records in the 800 and 600 meters, and finished third in the 800 at the NCAA meet on March 10.

But it’s his leadership that his coaches and teammates say make the team cocaptain special.

"Erik has always been a real positive role model for everybody on the team," junior Ethan Holmes said. "Even when he was younger, some of the older guys still looked up to him. He embodies everything you want out of a Division-I student-athlete."

Holmes said Sowinski is the type of person who will stay up all night studying for an early morning exam, ace the test, and then go to practice and outwork his teammates during workouts — and he’ll make it look easy.

"Those type of guys, you really look up to them and you’re like ‘Wow, I wish I could be just like him,’ " Holmes said.

Holmes said Sowinski is "one of the nicest kids you’ll ever meet" and that his former roommate sometimes has a difficult time policing other athletes when they aren’t working as hard as they need to in practice. But he admitted Sowinski’s leadership style complements that of fellow captain Troy Doris well, so it isn’t an issue.

Assistant coach Joey Woody said Sowinski has always preferred to lead by example but has grown into a more tangible leader this year.

"He has been a quiet leader, just the way he handles himself when he comes to practice," Woody said. "He’s focused, he’s determined, and he wants to be the best. But now he’s taking more of a leadership role, being more vocal."

But Woody said the Waukesha, Wis., native is the same person he was when he stepped onto campus four years ago.

"A lot of [his leadership] still comes from what he does as a person," Woody said. "People want to be like Erik because of what he does for the program and what he does for himself; he’s in one of the hardest majors on campus — integrative physiology — and is going to go into medicine."

Sowinski is also a representative on the Iowa Student-Athlete Advisory Committee, which performs — among other things — regular community service. Holmes said his former roommate takes "so much" responsibility for what the team does and is instrumental in organizing committee events for the Hawkeyes.

"He’ll send out emails to get volunteers, organize rides for guys so they can get where they need to be, and make sure everybody knows exactly what they need to do," Holmes said. "He’s like a big a big brother to everybody on the team."

Sowinski said the catalyst behind his transformation as a leader has been the people around him.

"I always want to try to inspire the guys around me," he said. "As much as people want to say this is an individual sport, it’s a team sport, too. Just trying to inspire the younger guys and hopefully bring the team to bigger things in years to come, that’s been a driving force for me."

Woody said Sowinski’s ascent from being an unheralded recruit to an All-American serves as an inspiration for similar athletes who don the Black and Gold. He specifically mentioned junior Keaton Rickels as one who has benefited from Sowinski’s example.

"[Sowinski’s rise] has shown these other guys that ‘Hey, even though I wasn’t a superstar in high school, that doesn’t mean I can’t be one at the collegiate level,’ " Woody said.

Follow DI men’s track reporter Tork Mason on Twitter.