Living and training in Iowa City helps keep world-class runner Erik Sowinski grounded and focused

Erik Sowinski — photo by Jim Kirby

Eugene, Oregon is the mecca for track and field in the United States. It is Tracktown USA. It is where Nike was created by Oregon’s hall of fame coach, Bill Bowerman.

Many of the track and field athletes sponsored by Nike live in Eugene and Portland, Oregon, or Boulder, Colorado, or Flagstaff, Arizona or Boston, Massachusetts — but not all of them.

In fact one of Nike’s best and most consistent athletes lives and trains in Iowa City.

Erik Sowinski, now 27 years old, was a 1:54 2008 state champion 800 meter runner at Waukesha West High School in Waukesha, Wisconsin.

Running 800 meters in 1 minute and 54 seconds may win you a state title, but very seldom does it get you an offer from a Division I program. Sowinski had no D-I scholarship offers and was ready to walk on at Wisconsin when he was asked to make a visit to Iowa City and the University of Iowa campus.

The Iowa coaching staff, then headed up by longtime coach Larry Wieczorek, offered Sowinski a 10 percent scholarship. That 10 percent grew into a full ride when the five-time All American became a senior.

Under the tutelage of then-UI assistant, now head coach Joey Woody, Sowinski has grown to be one of the country’s best 800 runners, ever, and Iowa City is his home.

When Sowinski was approached by Nike about becoming a professional, one of his personal stipulations was that he wanted to stay in Iowa City and be coached by Woody. It became apparent quite early that the folks at Nike made the right decision by allowing this to happen.

Sowinski has taken that 1:54 high school personal best to 1:44.58.

“I am very thankful and very grateful to not only Nike, but to Coach Woody and the University of Iowa for allowing this to happen five years ago,” Sowinski said. “Iowa City has become home to me. I can’t imagine living and training anywhere else.”

Sowinski has made the final at both the indoor and outdoor USA Championship each of the last five years. That is 10 for 10. No other current American middle distance runner has that on their resume.

Erik Sowinski — photo by Jim Kirby

Another aspect of Sowinski’s career that might be hard for most to fathom, is that his training is done solo. Just him, Woody and a stopwatch. Whether it is at the UI’s outdoor track, new indoor track, the trails in Solon or the Terry Trueblood Recreation Area, Sowinski trains in total solitude and it has served him well.

He has won three U.S. titles (two 800 meter and one 600), has represented the U.S. at three World Championships (winning bronze in the 800 at World Indoors in 2016), is on two U.S. indoor record holding relays (4×800 and Distance Medley) and once held the U.S. record in the 600.

Sowinski has had his share of heartbreak too. By finishing fourth at the 2016 Olympic Trials and the 2017 U.S. Championships, he missed coveted spots on those U.S. teams by mere fractions of a second.

But he is still training and looking ahead.

“Traveling the world to compete in track and field has allowed me to meet many people, see lots of things and make some great friends, that I otherwise would not have been able to do,” Sowinski said.

“Living and training in Iowa City since coming here as a freshman in 2009, has been huge in keeping me grounded, healthy and focused.”

“I hope to be in the mix at the 2020 Olympic Trials in Los Angeles as well as the 2021 World Championships in Eugene, and Iowa City is where I plan to live and train to make that happen.”