2017-2018 ATHLETE OF THE YEAR: East Mills' Janette Schraft

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By Joel Stevens, Associate Editor

After winning seven gold medals at state track heading into one’s senior year, it’s easy to imagine the motivation to get better could wane.


Not for Janette Schraft.

Not even just a little bit.

The East Mills junior, who placed second as a team all by herself at the state track meet this spring, never lacks for motivation. She’s spent this summer working out three to fours hours and running more than four miles per day, preparing for the Junior Olympics and the upcoming cross country season.

“My goals never stop,” said Schraft. “As a freshman I had no idea what I was capable of. I want to run at the collegiate level, Division I. And I don’t want to go into that thinking, ‘This is something I might be good at.’ I want to go into it knowing this is something I’m good at and can succeed in.”

This past season, Schraft, once again, proved she is good at a lot of things and why she is, once again, The Opinion-Tribune’s 2017-2018 Athlete of the Year.

This past spring, Schraft won three events and placed second in a fourth to win the Class 1A runner up team trophy. All of that to go with an eighth place finishes at last Fall’s  Iowa State Cross Country Meet. Oh, and she lettered in basketball in between.

Schraft admits her “drive” wasn’t always the best. It’s evolved and matured with her. As a youth runner she constantly asked questions. She didn’t have a problem with workouts but her need to know the “Why” of every workout consumed her training.

“My first year of (varsity) track, I’m not sure how much drive I had. I think I had a lot of luck. It was like a soft introductory to track and field because my times that year, when I won the 3,000-meters, wouldn’t have even placed me in the top five this year.”

But that time did place her atop the field that year. She added a pair of silver medals that year as well. As a sophomore she became just one of 14 Iowa girls to sweep gold in the 800, 1,500 and 3,000.

“I remember watching the make or break race (at state) to see if I’d place or not and when I did, I was just in tears,” she said. “I think it was the most phenomenal feeling I’ve ever had. It was better than winning that first state championship my freshman year.”

Competition comes naturally to Schraft, the youngest of five children. She’s constantly on the move, incessantly training to get better.

I just want to let people know my freshman year wasn’t a fluke. Now that I know what I’m capable of and what I have done in the past, I want to keep improving and instead of having it be by chance or luck, I want people to know that I actually worked hard for this.”

Perhaps the most awe-inspiring of Schraft’s performances this season was the 400-meter hurdles, an event she had not run since middle school and only added to her varsity repertoire a month before the state track meet.

“There probably isn’t an event I wouldn’t try. If my coach put me in the shot I’d probably throw it 16 feet but I wouldn’t be afraid to try it.”

With Schraft dominating southwest Iowa in the 800, 1,500 and 3,000-meters, she needed a fourth event. She picked up hurdling in the middle of last season only after coaches ruled out the high jump and long jump for fear of injury.

“My coaches and I discussed it and we felt like I could have qualified (for state) in anything from the open 100 (meters) on up and maybe placed in anything from the 200 (meters) on up.”

She turned her eyes first to the 400-meters but then latched on to the 400-meter hurdles.

“I thought, ‘Why not open the door to new things?” Schraft said.

She calls her first competitive 400-meter hurdle race “rough.” But Schraft is clearly her own worst critic. Her 1:06 at an April meet in Corning was the seventh best in the state at the time and punched her ticket to the Drake Relays.
Schraft would go on win the event at state with a time of 1:03.13.
Her success with new events is apparently a trend.

On July 23, Schraft won a gold medal in the 2,000-meter steeplechase 17-18 division at the USATF Hershey National Junior Olympics with a time of 7:03.82. She bested the runner up by more than 20 seconds.

Prior to this summer, Schraft had never run the event that has competitors running 2,000-meters on a track of heavy hurdles and water obstacles. Her surprising success in the hurdles and middle distance experience made her an ideal candidate for the event.

“A few college coaches and my own coach said it was something I might be good at it so I said ‘why not?’” she said.

Turned out, the rising East Mills senior liked it. She liked it a lot.

“It’s probably the most fun I’ve ever had in a race,” she said. “I really love it.”

All of Schraft’s coaches agree she’s a self-motivated runner who rarely needs coaching. She gets it, they say. And, more importantly, she’s dedicated enough to invest in herself.

“If I’m doing something I want to be the best I can be at it,” said Schraft. “I still listen to my coaches of course, and I still take their advice. But if I know that I need to help improve my aerobic base or I notice my speed has been down I’ll know what workouts I can do to combat that and improve myself.

Schraft prides herself on working hard and putting herself in situations other athletes don’t put themselves through.
Her schedule this summer has been typically tough for a runner who aspires to be a D-I track athlete and has heard from programs in the Big 10, Big 12 and Southeastern Conference. Most days she’s up by dawn working in the weight room and then running four to five miles every evening.

Schraft admits her days of playing softball and basketball, two sports she’s lettered twice in for the Wolverines in her career, are likely over as she turns her focus to running and academics her senior year. But she takes pride in the tradition she’s helped established at East Mills.

“The two things that give me the best feeling is when I look at all the junior high kids we had out for track this year. We had twice as many junior high athletes as high school athletes out. The other great feeling I get is when people used to ask where I’m from and I’d say, ‘East Mills’ and they’d say they never heard of it. But now I’ll go to meets and people will ask and I’ll tell them and they’ll say, ‘Oh, East Mills. I’ve heard of East Mills.’

“That’s a great feeling.”