From the time Samantha Bluske put on a pair of running shoes during middle school and went for a run with her father in the Chaseburg Village Park she was hooked. Now at the age of 24, with the 2016 Olympic Trials just days away in Los Angeles, Bluske’s name is listed among the 224 women competing for a spot on the U.S. Olympic team.
Samantha, the daughter of Kevin and Donna Bluske of Chaseburg, couldn’t be prouder of her small town roots. She attended Coon Valley Elementary and Chaseburg Middle School through sixth grade, before the Bluske family relocated for her father’s employment. The move was an adjustment for Samantha, but one she took to heart and SOLE, breaking running records right and left as she advanced to each new level of competition.
People around Samantha realized quickly just how talented a runner she was, but it took time for Bluske to realize it herself. Today, she has little doubt that she was destined to run and maybe the constructive critiquing her father did when she started running with him in Chaseburg years ago had an impact far beyond those village limits.
“Dad was training for his work related physical endurance testing and I started to get interested in running because of the mile run required for my school physical education class in Chaseburg. He was trying to correct my form the entire time we were running, which was annoying at the time since I thought I should probably be the one correcting his form. Considering I remember exactly what I was wearing that day in the park, that run had a bigger impact on me than I ever thought,” Samantha said.
Entering seventh grade in a new school district, Bluske wanted to try cross country, but said she was scared to talk to the coach knowing Pardeeville middle and high school runners practiced together. It took several days for her to gain enough courage to talk to the coach.
A teenager and new kid on the block, Bluske will never forget breaking the Pardeeville Middle School cross country race record running at the Portage Invite in seventh grade.
“I was fully engaged and super competitive. I crossed the finish line in 5:54 and broke the middle school record. It was a that moment that I realized I had finally found the sport that fit my personality,” Bluske said.
Bluske graduated from Pardeeville High School in 2009 and attended college at Illinois State University before transferring to Iowa State University. In high school Bluske was a three sport athlete participating in cross country, basketball and track. In college she participated in cross country and track for Iowa State University under the direction of her role model and mentor, Andrea Grove-McDonough.
Years before her coaching career, Grove-McDonough just missed making the Canadian Olympic team herself in the 10K, but had an outstanding professional running career. In 2008, she transitioned to college coaching taking over the women’s distance program at Iowa State, where Bluske was in her final year of college, where the two of them became fast friends.
“Your final year of college can be very stressful and she helped me to really figure out what I wanted to do as a career and how I could share my passion with others through a career. I can always count on her for personal, running or professional advice,” Bluske said.
A standout moment for Bluske came her final year of college under the direction of Grove-McDonough, during a Big 12 Indoor Championship. Bluske’s training was going great, but she just couldn’t put everything together during races. She was breaking down mentally in the races and was very disappointed in herself. In her heart she knew she was fitter than her races were showing.
Bluske loved running in the conference championships, a race when you throw your times out the window and just run as hard and fast as you can for your teammates. Going into the 5K race, with a handful of All-Americans also competing, Bluske was predicted to finish fifth. So she just relaxed and sat back in the pack, but with 1000 meters to go, she realized she was in third place and was gaining on the leaders. Heading into the final 400 meters of the race the trigger released and it all came together for Bluske who just knew at that point she was going to win the race.
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“I don’t think I’ve ever kicked so hard at the end of a race, but crossing the finish line was one of the greatest feelings in the world. My coach and best friend finished in third place just a few seconds behind. We were all in tears. Those are the moments you never forget as an athlete and the times that motivate to keep going,” Bluske said.
Today Bluske resides in Toledo, Ohio, where she is employed as the assistant cross country/track coach at the University of Toledo. Her family has since returned to Vernon County and reside in Chaseburg, an area she still considers her family home.
Bluske has competed in two marathons, including winning one in Toledo where she ran one mile further than anyone else. The typical 26.2 mile race, ended with Bluske running 27.2 miles after course officials sent her the wrong direction at mile 20.5. Because Bluske was so far out in front of the rest of the pack, a race official thought she was the tail end of the pack, not the leader, and mistakenly sent her the wrong way toward the finish line. Once she realized the error she had to back track, but still passed all competitors to win the marathon.
The extra distance affected her overall time and resulted in her not qualifying for the Olympic race at Toledo and forced her to run a second marathon in early December where she made the cut. Bluske is ranked 100 out of 244 runners scheduled to compete on Feb. 13 in Los Angeles.
After qualifying for the Olympic trials, Bluske took a few days off in December returning to training. Unfortunately over the holidays, she suffered an injury which limited her running to 40 minutes a day for approximately three weeks. She turned the corner in mid January and is back into full pain free workouts running up to about 100 miles a week, all while balancing a full-time job and graduate school. “I have had to be very creative with my time management. Running is a lifestyle sport and my passion so I do it because I love it. Don’t get me wrong, there are some days when I need a little kick in the butt to get out the door, but I run because it is a part of who I am,” Bluske said.
The Olympic trials has been a dream of Bluske’s since her freshman year of high school, when she realized that the Olympic trials would be about 1.5 years after graduating from college. Fulfilling that dream will be a huge check off her bucket list and someday running in the Olympics would be the icing on the cake.
To this day though, when Bluske wants to escape the hustle and bustle of the real world she remembers life growing up in Chaseburg, compared to where she is now. When she tells people that she grew up in a town of 250 people, with no cell phone service they laugh at her, but she wouldn’t trade it for anything.
“There were always kids my age to play within the summers, kids played outside and we loved spying on neighbors, making forts and riding bike,” Bluske said.
Bluske is so appreciative of the opportunities she has been awarded in life and has always been very close to her family, even if she lives 10 hours away
“ I talk to one of my parents almost every day. I think living in Chaseburg helped me to appreciate my family so much more and it really shaped my morals and personality later in life. They’ve dealt with my crazy emotions, crying phone calls and always rearranged family gatherings so I can get my run in,” Bluske said.
“After college I thought about just giving up on running and my parents urged me to continue training. My parents and all my coaches through the years always believed in me even when I didn’t believe in myself. That kind of support is priceless and each one of them has had a different impact on my life and has taught me something about myself,” Bluske said.