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Pair of LIU Post Valedictorians Chasing Olympic Dreams

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Loretta Schuellein barely has a moment to breathe these days.

When classes end for the day at Manhasset High School, Schuellein – an 11th grade English teacher and the valedictorian of LIU Post’s Class of 1999 – heads to the track, where she’ll walk as far as 10 miles. When she’s through, there are children to put to bed and papers to grade before she goes to sleep and gets ready to do it all again.

It’s all in preparation for pursuit of Olympic dreams, as Schuellein is gearing up for the U.S. Olympic trials in Salem, Oregon, where she’ll be competing in the 20K racewalk.

“It’s just mind-boggling that I thought this was a good idea,” Schuellein, who is also pursuing National Board Certification. “We have every moment of our days scheduled. Every day, we need to figure out, ‘What’s the workout? Where do the children have to be? How long is the workout?’ We time it to make sure that everything’s taken care of, and the workout gets done, and we don’t miss anyone.”

As the days dwindle down towards June 30, though, the end is in sight.

“Just a few more hard efforts,” Schuellein, “and then we’ll start to taper before the meet.”

She won’t be the only LIU Post alum competing in Salem, either, or even the only valedictorian. Maria Michta, valedictorian of the class of 2008, will be walking in pursuit of her second Olympic berth after representing the U.S. in London in 2012.

Both Schuellein and Michta grew up in New York – Schuellein in Queens Village, Michta in Nesconset – and discovered the event in high school. Racewalking has long been a part of New York’s state track and field program, which has made the state a hotbed of talent in the event. 

Schuellein quickly found herself to be a natural. “I remember, as a kid, being frustrated that I couldn’t beat the boys running,” she said, “so I would always challenge them to walk, and I would always beat them.”

For Michta, her discovery of her passion for racewalking was the key to an Olympic dream that began in 1996, when she watched the Atlanta games at age 10.

“Those two weeks,” Michta writes on her official website, “I watched more TV than I probably had the entire previous year. This is when the dream began; one day, I wanted to make it to the Olympics.”

Both Schuellein and Michta competed as racewalkers during their time at LIU Post, and when Michta gave her valedictory address at Commencement in 2008, she addressed the class remotely as she looked to earn a place in Beijing with the U.S. team.

Injuries eventually derailed her pursuit in 2008, but she would not be denied in 2012, and now, Michta aims to compete in her second Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, with Schuellein pursuing her first Olympic berth.

And, as the Zika virus makes headlines ahead of the Olympics in Rio, Michta is uniquely situated among Olympians to understand the risks inherent in competing in Brazil, having gone on from LIU Post to earn her Ph.D. in biomedical science with a research emphasis in virology. And, while Michta and her husband plan to start a family immediately following the Olympics, the link of Zika to microcephaly has not deterred her from her Olypmic pursuit.

“Our plan is to do the Olympics in Rio, enjoy every possible moment leading up the Olympics, then try to have a family and try to conceive as soon as possible,” Michta told Vocativ in February.

“I don’t know any athlete that would turn down the opportunity because of Zika,” Schuellein added. “I think US officials will do a good job making sure they take every precaution to protect their athletes.”

Now, all that’s left to do is compete, although for Schuellein, there’s been another test to contend with of late: her students’ Regents exam.

Schuellein has found that preparing her students for the exam has a very familiar feel to it.

“I find that I use a lot of sports analogies when I teach,” Scheullein said. “My coach always tells me, ‘The only thing you can control is your level of preparation, and if you’re prepared, you can rest assured that you will do yourself.’ I found myself telling that to my students before their Regents exam: ‘If you are the athletes and I’m your coach, I am fully confident that you will do your best tomorrow. Now, I want you to go home and get a good night’s sleep, rest, eat, and hydrate.’”

Before long, she’ll look to follow the same advice in Salem.

Posted 06/30/2016

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