Janusiak weathers the storm to reach NCAA Championships

Lawrence indoor track action Josh Janusiak and Joe Kortenhof
Lawrence's Josh Janusiak, left, is competing in the NCAA Division III Championships on Friday.

APPLETON, Wis. -- There must have been times in the last two months when Josh Janusiak felt like Mother Nature had a personal vendetta against him.

The Lawrence University track star was on a mission to qualify for the NCAA Division III Indoor Championships in the 5,000 meters, but he battled the elements as much as the competitors to get there.

"It's more of an accomplishment to me, just getting to indoor nationals," said Janusiak, who runs Friday at the Reggie Lewis Center in Boston, Mass. "The 5k is the shortest distance I'm really good at. This winter has been pretty hard. It hasn't been good to train outside, and I've been really busy this winter term so I'm glad it all worked out in the end and I was able to make it."

An All-American outdoors in the 10,000 meters and in cross country, Janusiak could be the best runner competing at the indoor championships without the benefit of an indoor track. Lawrence has a small track inside the Buchanan Kiewit Wellness Center but nothing like the 200-meter tracks found in college athletic facilities around the country. So Janusiak and his fellow distance runners have battled the 60 inches of snow and the brutal cold that has gripped Appleton for the last three months.

"I definitely got really sick of the cold this year," Janusiak said. "I'm OK with running on treadmills, and I've been listening to a lot of music. It takes a lot of energy to have a good run on a treadmill. I almost feel more prepared because I've dealt with so much mentally."

Janusiak, a senior from South Milwaukee and the Midwest Conference's three-time indoor champion in the 5,000, has used the adversity of the training conditions as a motivator.

"I love to be a role model or example for what's really possible when you train under hard circumstances," Janusiak said. "That's also a part of why I run D3. I wanted to show people you can do well if you work hard enough, no matter where you are."

Janusiak holds the 16th-fastest time at 14:32.15 in the field of 20 runners, and North Central College's Dhruvil Patel is the top seed at 14:00.07. After Patel, just 17 seconds separate the next 19 runners. The top eight finishers earn All-America honors.

Lawrence coach Jason Fast commented that Janusiak's achievements during the indoor season have been remarkable but not surprising.

"It's pretty amazing. That's also just kind of who Josh is. He's a guy that doesn't make excuses. He always puts out his best effort no matter what's going on," Fast said. "He's never taken a woe-is-me attitude. It's more like what can I do? How can I get better?"

Janusiak is the first Lawrence athlete to qualify for the indoor championships since Rose Tepper went in the high jump in 2011. He's the first Lawrence male athlete to go since Kolade Agbaje-Williams was an All-American in the high jump in 2003.

"A guy like Josh, all he needs is the chance," Fast said. "I have all the confidence in his ability to put out his best effort, and it's probably going to be something great."

Janusiak does have a knack for performing well under trying circumstances and many fine runners have wilted under the pressure of the national championships.

In blistering heat at the 2018 NCAA outdoor championships in La Crosse, Janusiak finished seventh in the 10,000 to earn All-America honors. During the NCAA cross country championships this past fall, Janusiak was in the lead pack of runners early in the race when he was tripped. He untangled himself from a pile of bodies, passed about 150 of the best runners in the nation and earned All-America honors.
 
"Josh prepares the same for every race he goes into," Fast said. "He does a fantastic job of staying in the moment and not not letting any moment be too big for him."

Now that Janusiak is there, the race really begins. Both Janusiak and Fast were quick to point out that reaching the national championships is simply a starting point.

"It's mostly about competing and getting All-American," said Janusiak, a philosophy and Spanish major who also earned Academic All-America honors in 2018. "I've been feeling good lately. … I think I'll be prepared to race with the guys at the top."

"Is Josh is anywhere in the top eight, it would be a great day for him and for our program," Fast added. "That's always been the goal. It's about competing with the best of the best. The goal is never to just get here."