DES MOINES — Austin Heitland’s perspective has changed through growth within a challenging multi-event workload during his college years.

The University of Northern Iowa senior matched last season’s third-place finish in the Drake Relays decathlon Thursday afternoon with a near identical score of 6,644 points. Heitland felt he missed some opportunities for points in the long jump and shot put during Wednesday’s competition, adding to the challenge on Thursday.

University of Minnesota’s Theodore Frid won the event, competing unattached with a score of 7,478. Iowa freshman Austin West also competed unattached and edged Heitland for second at 6,848.

“The score I got today, I’m not really happy with, but I got the same score last year here and I was stoked,” Heitland said. “The whole process of growing is pretty awesome, because I was terrible when I first started.”

A successful multi-sport athlete at AGWSR High School, physical enough to earn all-state honors at tight end, Heitland only competed in running events as a prep track athlete. The former 400-meter state champion never had a chance to compete in the Drake Relays until college and has learned to handle a multi-event workload that includes the javelin and pole vault, which aren’t offered at the high school level in Iowa.

Heitland set a personal record Thursday in a javelin event that has been his nemesis throughout college, and he’s embraced the unique skillset it takes to find success in the pole vault.

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“At first, I hated pole vault, I hated practice,” Heitland said. “I was bad at it. Then I started to feel it out and now I love it. It’s my favorite event, a lot of fun.”

Heitland has found steady growth throughout his college career, setting personal records in seven of 10 events en route to a runner-up finish and overall personal record with a score of 6,966 at last year’s Missouri Valley Conference outdoor meet. He was just seven points shy of an indoor MVC heptathlon title this season.

Despite the pain he’s felt in his knee, back and Achilles as a fifth-year collegiate athlete, Heitland is determined to make a run at a conference title.

“Hopefully some more good things happen in a couple weeks and I can win the MVC,” Heitland said. “That would be pretty awesome.

“It’s pretty wild for me to grow and come here and be able to compete in such a prestigious event (at the Drake Relays) and see myself grow over the years. It’s been an awesome community at UNI. I owe a lot to my parents, a ton to the coaches. They’ve put a lot of time and effort in to help me grow to the athlete I am today.”

COLLETTE GOES DISTANCE: Wartburg sophomore Carina Collett more than held her own against athletes from larger schools, placing sixth in the 10,000 in 36:00.57. UNI’s Mckayla Cole finished 10th in the race.

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Sports reporter for The Courier

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