CEDAR FALLS — Cross country running has been supplemented with cross country travel for Sam Schillinger this past week.
The Cedar Falls senior broke his school’s 5K record by 15 seconds with a time of 15 minutes, 22 seconds during last Thursday’s Mississippi Valley Conference divisional meet at the Dubuque Soccer Complex. On Monday, Schillinger took a glimpse into one of his future options as he went on a visit to Columbia University in New York.
Distance running is both a sport and a lifestyle that has opened doors and created valuable friendships for the Cedar Falls standout. He’ll race on his home course one last time during Thursday’s district meet at Birdsall Park. A farewell tour of the state meet venue at Lakeside Golf Course in Fort Dodge is looming.
Schillinger is Iowa’s top returning finisher from last year’s state meet with a third-place result that tied Jeff Short in 1986 for the best individual effort by a Cedar Falls High School runner. He’s rarely been tested this season, losing only to rival Ryan Murphy of Linn-Mar at the MVC Super Meet.
Cedar Falls coach Troy Becker believes Schillinger and Murphy are two of four individuals with a legitimate chance at winning this year’s 4A race. Coming off the best race of his career, Schillinger is confident and excited to be back in the mix.
“Not many guys get the opportunity to say that they have a shot at winning a state title,” Schillinger said. “I feel really blessed that I’m even in this position. It’s extremely competitive.
“I’m just thankful for all the coaching and support I’ve had throughout the years to get to this spot. You only have one shot at it. I’m excited to see what I can do. I have confidence in my training and ability.”
Schillinger has been exposed to competitive running for as long as he can remember. His parents once took him on runs in a baby jogger, and when he was old enough, Sam started going to weekend road races with his mom, Susie Freedman. His dad, Dean Schillinger, was an avid runner, as well, training and competing in marathons during Sam’s younger years.
“I was surrounded by two experienced runners who loved it,” Sam Schillinger said. “Being around it so much, I just fell in love with the sport and was able to grow passionate about it.”
Once Schillinger entered high school, he was able to latch onto one of the strongest classes of distance runners Cedar Falls has ever produced. Isaac Smith, Ethan Smith, Andrew Nurse and Jake Hartman were a year older and became a reliable group of training partners and friends from a team that finished runner-up in last year’s state meet.
“That class was a phenomenal class, just a special group of guys,” Schillinger said. “They were some of my best friends that I made in high school. I give them a lot of credit. They’ve been there for my ups and downs and they’ve always been there to support me.
“Right when I got on the team, those guys were working their tails off and they showed me that you can really go places and have success on the team, in school and life.”
Schillinger says he’s enjoyed working with his team’s younger runners this season, yet the graduation of that talented class has forced him to be more independent.
“It’s made him a little bit mentally stronger,” Becker said. “There’s been some practices where he’s had to hit pace and do it completely on his own.”
That inner-drive revealed itself last week. Schillinger hadn’t improved on his personal record from last season, prior to setting the school record well ahead of the competition at the divisional meet.
“To run that (record time) has been a dream,” Schillinger said. “I didn’t know if I could get there. I felt a lot better than I really expected. Seeing that time on the clock when I finished was amazing.”
It was the type of race that epitomized what makes Schillinger one of the state’s best.
“The thing I like about Sam is just his go for it attitude,” Becker said. “When we get to a big race, he can be relaxed and comfortable with the fact that he’s put in the work and all you can do is what you can do on that day. He’s willing to go out and just go for it.”
Should he get the chance to end his career with a state title, Schillinger is confident he can finish.
“I think the race is going to come down to that last half-mile to three quarters of a mile,” he said. “I know it’s going to be a tough push through the whole race. It will come down to whoever has the most at the end, whoever is willing to run the gutsiest race on that day and is willing to put it on the line. I’m hoping I can be that guy.”
Regardless how his final state meet turns out, Schillinger has already left a legacy within his tradition-rich high school program.
“When you have great talent with great work ethic and great character, then it usually leads to a lot of special things,” Becker said. “He’s good for a reason. The reason is, he works so hard and has a great attitude towards it. It’s good for our younger runners to see it’s more than just talent.”