Mylenek stays the course on his way to NCAAs

Nate Mylenek nearly quit cross country his freshmen year, and now he is competing at his second NCAA Championship.


Jenna Galligan

Iowa distance runner Nathan Mylenek leads the pack of the 1500-meter run at the Musco Twilight Invitational at the Cretzmeyer Track on Saturday, April 13, 2019. Mylenek won the race with a time 3:52:06. The Hawkeyes won 10 events during the meet. The Iowa women ranked first with 183 points, and the men ranked fifth 76 points.

Ben Palya, Sports Reporter


The first few weeks of cross country senior Nate Mylenek’s freshman year of college were some of the hardest of his life. He struggled to balance his academic and athletic pursuits. An engineering major at the time, a big decision needed to be made after a rough first go at exams.

“My first round of exams went terribly,” Mylenek said. “So it was just trying to be an engineer at the time, and running at the same time was pretty awful.”

The difficult situation is one of the many things that make Mylenek’s journey to success even more improbable.

Throughout high school, he was a soccer player who enjoyed his time on the field. After a good experience with track his freshman year, the head coach invited him to run cross country. Despite this, Mylenek was never fully focused on the sport as he went back and forth between cross country and soccer.

“To be honest, running was kind of an afterthought,” Mylenek said. “It was just kind of something that was fun to do on the track, like beating people on it.”

As he continued to compete in both soccer and running, college became a crossroads of sorts. During the summer of his senior year, he started to look at various schools for academics as a primary focus and met with several coaches to see if competing on a college roster was even an option.

This led him to Iowa, where the campus and coaching staff helped him believe it would be the right place for him.

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Mylenek credits head coach Randy Hasenbank for being a great mentor over the course of his career. Along with Hasenbank, he has been lucky enough to have several great people who have helped him through his journey on the cross country team.

On the day Mylenek was considering quitting the team, it was the people around him that helped convince him to stay true to the sport he loved.

“When I was kind of worried about whether I should stay on the team or not, I remember I had a run with a friend, and that was a good talk, and then I called my dad that night, and two days later I made my decision to drop engineering,” Mylenek said. “I think my dad would be kind of like the major one to help me stick to it; he made me stick to it and realize that I didn’t want to give it up.”

One thing that sets Mylenek apart from many other athletes is his fearlessness and desire to improve, something that was a key factor in getting him to where he is today.

“He definitely helped get the team in a winning mentality,” senior Daniel Murphy said. “Definitely helping us put together great team performances over the last couple of years. He definitely undertook a role as a leader this year and helped push everyone to get better.”

His career is one that took off extremely quickly. After an under-the-radar freshman year, he announced his presence his sophomore year by leading the Hawkeyes in five out of six races and breaking the school record for the 10,000-meters at NCAA Regionals that season.

After a successful track and field season, Mylenek went into his junior year with high hopes and delivered in a big way. He became the first Hawkeye to run in the NCAA Championships since Jeff Thode in 2011, and Mylenek did it all by earning All-Region and All-Big Ten honors. The Michigan native also enjoyed a stellar track season as he continued to write his name into Iowa athletics history.

After another brilliant campaign with Iowa, he is looking to put the icing on the cake in his final meet at Nationals this weekend.

“My ultimate goal is to win the race; there’s no point in going if you don’t want to win it,” Mylenek said.

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