Oregon's Puskedra A Duck For Life
By Haley Hirai
Luke Puskedra and his teammates are excellent at running races and winning races. But there's one race that they don't always win: a ritual they have dubbed "Le Tour de Eugene."
"Eugene has a lot of untapped potential," Puskedra said, referring to the town's many quirky eateries. Each teammate takes a turn choosing a restaurant. "You have to do your research so you don't let your team down," he said, hinting at restaurant choices gone wrong.
Puskedra, a junior on Oregon's cross country team, certainly has not let his team down since he came to Oregon from Ogden, Utah. It was his childhood dream to come run for Oregon, the home of Steve Prefontaine and many other running greats.
"When I visited, something just clicked and I was like 'This is where I gotta be,'" he said.
The story of Puskedra's speed began in third grade, when his older brother playfully bragged about his mile time.
"I was going to try to run faster," he said.
That competitive spirit has stuck and no one has caught up with him since. He graduated high school with a personal best mile time of 4:06:60 and has gone on to become 2008 Pac-10 Newcomer of the Year and a six-time All-American.
Puskedra is still in touch with his high school coach Dan Quinn and credits him as a big part of his success. Going to school an hour away from where he actually lived, Puskedra depended on Quinn to keep everything comfortable and fun.
"I usually get three missed calls after every race. My mom, my dad, and him," Puskedra said.
The same fun, goofy atmosphere from his days with Quinn is what Puskedra loves about the close team at Oregon.
"We joke around so much and we're always loose. We have practice every day where we can hang out, but we stick around longer and stretch together," he said.
The only time the team's relaxed atmosphere changes is on race days, when "everyone gets serious really fast," according to Puskedra.
Coming into his freshman season, Puskedra knew there was a possibility he might be redshirted, so he spent the summer working especially hard to get into the best shape possible. He still wakes up as early as 5:30 a.m. to run, and he logs between 90 and 95 miles a week.
Puskedra was not redshirted and has gone on to become a team leader. He will always remember the day the 2008 team won a national title.
"Individually, I got fifth, but that's not the accomplishment I'm most proud of. I'm most proud that we won it. It all came together and it was like 'This is something else'," he said.
Puskedra, a sports business major, considers Eugene his home and doesn't even mind the perpetual rain — "It's better than snow," he said — but his ties to his family in Utah remain strong. He talks to his mom every two days. His parents come to watch all of his big races and about twenty Puskedra family members from the greater Chicago area descended on South Bend, Ind., for the Notre Dame Invitational, where they watched Luke lead his team to an impressive win on the 8,000 meter course.
Puskedra is looking forward to showing all the work that the team has done this season at the upcoming Pac-10 Championships in Seattle.
"You've got to perform. The Pac-10 is a really competitive conference in every sport, but especially running," he said.
A successful race will hopefully lead to a successful "Le Tour de Eugene" and another solid restaurant choice by the team. Puskedra slows down from a life built on speed with something any normal college student would do.
"I like more relaxing stuff, like video games," he said. "And sitting."