Local runners share experiences of Australia

Sarah Bratsch and Lance Schuer of Little Falls, Stacy Britz of Pierz and Ryan Klingaman of Staples share their experiences. (Pictured are runners Ryan Klingaman, Stacy Britz, Sarah Bratsch and Lance Schuer. Submitted photo)

The cross country team members will always remember the hospitality that was shown to them by the Australians—they were treated with so much respect and kindness. “Our athletes enjoyed the Australian accent as much as they enjoyed our ‘Midwest ya’!” they said. When the American athletes would enter a restaurant, the ‘Aussies’ would yell out, “Hey, mates. It’s the Americans!”

When the athletes landed in Sydney, Australia, on July 3, they had the opportunity to tour the Olympic complex on the outside only. This was because of high security before the 2000 Olympics begin. They also had the opportunity to tour the famous Sydney Opera House and see the Harbor Bridge before they traveled to Surfer’s Paradise on the Gold Coast.

Once in Surfer’s Paradise, the athletes enjoyed a water park and a wildlife park where they fed the lorikeets, had their picture taken with kangaroos and koala bears, saw the Tasmanian Devils and aBaribuynma Aboriginal dance troups perform.

Before the games, Australia held America Week, with all of the athletes participating in a parade in their honor. Even the Aussies were waving the U.S. flag-cheering the Americans on for their success in the games, which was exciting for the local athletes to witness.

Next was the first competition: four laps with two large log barriers, one huge hill and lots of mud. The course was four miles long. Out of 120 runners, the Minnesota girls finished first. Britz was third, individually, and Sarah Bratsch, 17th.

The second competition found the Minnesota boys’ team finishing second with Ryan Klingaman finishing ninth and Lance Schuer finishing 40th. The local athletes competed against 120 runners from all parts of the United States, Australia and New Zealand. The Minnesota boys’ and girls’ teams finished very well: second and first place. Every athlete was presented with a medal for their participation in the International Sports. Britz and another girl from Minnesota were interviewed by the media.

The athletes exchange clothing with kids from Australia and New Zealand. Lance Schuer decided it was ‘worth the experience’ to trade one of his sports sweatshirts for a jacket from a girl from New Zealand. They also learned that Australia has school year-round with four, three-week “holidays”. Other then that, lifestyles aren’t much different.

After the races were done, there was time for “fun events.” The athletes enjoyed an amusement park, and choices of: surfing, body boarding, snorkeling, sky-diving, parasailing and, of course, shopping.

From Sydney, Australia, the teams flew to Honolulu, Hawaii and enjoyed three fun days, with many of the same fun activities as in Australia, including a tour of Pearl Harbor, which the entire team felt was the ‘the best thing they did in Hawaii’, before returning home July 13.

The Minnesota-Wisconsin cross country teams, along with their coach, Kathy Ahart, from Albany, MN, held their first reunion August 19-20 in Eau Claire, WI. They shared memories, pictures, and a stronger friendship bonding. They hope to make this an annual event.

Was it worth the many hours of flying and lay-overs before their final destination on the Gold Coast. Absolutely. Would they go back? In a second!

Their advice to all athletes: “If you receive a letter inviting you to participate in the Down Under International Games in Australia, say ‘yes’ and then focus on how to raise the money. It was worth the time spent in fund-raisers to have this opportunity of a lifetime. Many people dream of seeing Australia some day. We know we are fortunate to have had this chance to enjoy doing what we love so much—running. Thanks again to everyone in the community who helped us make this trip to Australia possible. We won’t forget what you did for us.”

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