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Running through adversity to major success: Gunner Schlender feature story

Posted by Ryan Baker on April 25th, 2023

For track and field and cross country star Gunner Schlender, adversity is something that he sprinted through to become a cornerstone runner at University of Wisconsin-Whitewater in just his second year. Schlender had a stint when he was coming into freshman year of college, where he had not ran competitively in almost three years.

Starting off his sophomore year in high school, he qualified for state once again in track and field, the development looked to be unflappable. However, a stress fracture in his right fibula that took 14 weeks to recover from during his junior year prevented him from running all year. Following that the Covid-19 pandemic cut his senior season just two practices into the year.

“It was really hard, looking back it was a ton of adversity. I didn’t notice it at the moment, but looking back I have nothing but appreciation for those moments,” said Schlender. “At the end of the day, those moments of not being able to run every day, being in a lot of pain, not knowing when I was going to race next, it allowed me to appreciate now being able to do that. It was very tough times but that adversity made me who I am today, and I’m stronger for it.”

Colleges had backed off the recruitment process on him, but there was a family connection with UW-Whitewater that fit perfectly in the mind of Schlender. His dad and two uncles attended Whitewater, and his grandpa had been the head coach for the track and field team for nine years. Coach Miller coached with his grandpa, and the Schlender and Miller families became close.

“At the end of the day, it came down to Coach Miller. We’re kind of family friends with Coach Miller. At the end of the day, I couldn’t see myself going anywhere else,” said Schlender. “His guidance, expertise and his care for every one of his athletes, it wasn’t really a decision for me because it felt so right.  I can’t imagine running for any other coach.”

Running under Miller and being a Warhawk has arguably been one of the best decisions Schlender has made due to his success on and off the track. Off the track he is a two-time USTFCCCA All-Academic student and a two-time winner of holding the team’s highest GPA. On the track, Schlender has his name etched in program history with five top-ten performances, two of them being the third best a Warhawk has run in the 3,000 and 10,000 meter runs.

Schlender, however, doesn’t focus on the awards or results because Miller provides a mindset for his runners to be detached from the results.

“We are trying to improve. No matter where we are at our goal is to be better next year. Whether you start at a high level or lower on the team, everyone is trying to improve. The outcomes will happen, whatever they are, they are,” said Miller. “You focus on what you’re going to do and how you are going to improve. We always talk about how you aren’t as good as you think you are and you aren’t as bad as you think you are. You have to keep it even-keeled.”

Not to mention, Schlender also has notches on his belt of being the WIAC champion in the distance medley relay and an All-American in the 5,000 meter run, both in just his freshman year. Schlender has been surrounded by other All-Americans in his short time at Whitewater, one being Christian Patzka. These two are in line to lead the team come upperclassmen years, but they always try to leave their footprint for those coming underneath them.

“The biggest example that we try to set is a lot about hard work but also smart work. We’re kind of known as a program that works smarter not harder. So we definitely try to set a precedent on the days that we work, we work really really hard, said Schlender. “On days we recover, we focus on recovering hard and tuning into what our bodies need. Our goal is to create a new wave in a way. Fast times are always fun to run, but our focus is always going to be on performing when it matters most.”

To have the success Schlender has had it only seems right to have a pre-race routine. Something to settle the nerves, and put you in the right mindset. However, Schlender’s ritual isn’t listening to hype music, doing a specific warm-up, or reading motivational quotes. It’s all about having the right snack.

“Christian [Patzka], everyone in our house, and I all love Pop Tarts. It’s our go to pre-race snack because it’s real light on the stomach. Patzka loves Wild Berry, that’s his favorite. I tend to stick to anything that is simple. I don’t like anything such as Oreo or fudge. I stick with the strawberry or blueberry before races.”

The program and success of the program are in phenomenal hands with Schlender and Patzka. The family bond that has been created between teammates and between coaches and players has a special place in Schlender’s heart. It is home to experiences that are going to be etched in his mind forever.  One in particular stands out for Gunner.

“My favorite memory, and one that probably won’t be rivaled going forward because of the team aspect, was the indoor 5k last season. Having three guys from Whitewater in that field, and ending up going four, five, and six,” said Schlender.  “I remember laying on the ground hugging Christian after the race, and it just didn’t feel real. It was the craziest feeling in the world, and seeing Miller was one of the peak moments of my life. Knowing we could give back to him all that he’s given to us through that performance is something I’ll remember forever.”

There will be plenty more of those surreal moments for Schlender and co. while he dons the Warhawk name with pride. 2023 only seems to be the beginning of the success. Surely, more adversity is to hit Schlender, but it is not something he won’t be able to glide through and come out on the other side as a better runner and a better person.

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Assignment 6: Audio Feature

Posted by Ryan Baker on April 20th, 2023

In this news story, four brother duos in the sports of wrestling, basketball, and football are showcased to express their feelings to playing with their brothers.

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About the Author

Posted by Ryan Baker on March 13th, 2023

About the Author: My name is Ryan Baker and I’m a senior at University of Wisconsin-Whitewater. My major is journalism with a broadcast/print/web emphasis along with a minor in professional writing and publishing. I’m from Minneapolis, MN and decided to come here after transferring from University of Kentucky. I preferred the smaller school. I’m the Men’s Sports Assistant Editor for the Royal Purple, the campus newspaper, and I play on the ultimate frisbee team here as well. In my free time, I love doing anything related to basketball, football, or baseball. Whether it being watching, playing, reading, or doing anything that closely relates to it. I’ve been a journey of spirituality and figuring out who I am recently and have enjoyed every second of it.

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