FREEMAN -- Thaniel Schroeder racks up the miles on his legs and car.
The Freeman Academy/Marion senior and his siblings -- freshman Thalen and seventh-grader Tavin -- are home-schooled by their mother in Spencer, resulting in them traveling a little more than 30 miles to practice in Freeman.
They try to read and do homework on drives to practice. But the 40-50 minute drive still throws a curveball into their schedules at times, leading to school on Saturday.
“(Freeman Academy/Marion) is one of the more home-school friendly schools we’ve come across,” Thaniel Schroeder said. “My brother (Teagan) played here and he ran his senior year. We built a community here and we wanted to stay in that community.”
The connection between Thaniel and his siblings is evident. Thalen called him “a blessing” to have as a brother and a “great leader” on the track, as they make up half of FAM’s state-qualifying 4x800-meter relay team.
“(It’s) cool because he’s really fast,” Thalen said, of running with Thaniel. “Really cool to run with him. I’d just say fun.”
Thaniel has followed in his older siblings’ footsteps. He started running in eighth grade after watching Teagan compete for the Bearcats, and he plans to run at Dordt College next year -- where his older sister, Tiana, runs -- and study mechanical engineering.
“I visited (Dordt) a few times, and it seems like that’s the type of community I’m looking for,” Schroeder said.
By the end of his first practice as an eighth grader, Schroeder knew he had a knack for distance running. He challenged himself to stick with the lead group, and he never fell off, completing his first five-mile run in the process. That motivated him to train even harder.
From breaking 5 minutes in the mile as an eighth grader to preparing for his final state meet on Friday and Saturday, Schroeder has continued to develop from that first practice.
It’s partly due to his love for the sport, along with natural ability and self-motivation, such as staying away from sugar during the season. Schroeder also credits his teammates and FAM coach Suzanne Koerner. He enters state with the best 1,600-meter time in Class B (4:37.38) and third-best 3,200 time (10:13.34), but he prefers the two mile because it’s longer.
“The feeling of being able to keep going when it’s just an easy practice is pretty great,” Schroeder said. “The rewards of saying, ‘Hey, I accomplished this,’ when you’re done on a hard day, you feel accomplished with distance running.”
Schroeder’s career hasn’t been without its demons, though, especially this year. In cross-country, Warner’s Cody Larson passed him on the final straightaway, pushing him to second place by less than 3 seconds.
“It does linger,” Schroeder said, of the loss. “It took me a few days to get over it. But now, I think about it once in a while, like, ‘So close, but I didn’t get it.’ But I’m looking forward to getting another shot at it in track.”
Coming up just shy of a state championship has been a theme for Schroeder. He finished in the top five in each of the past two state cross-country meets, while doing the same in all of the prior three state mile and two-mile runs. He called it disappointing, but uses it for motivation.
That’s why being held out of track practice to start the season was tough. He rolled both of his ankles during basketball season, and needed time to heal. Even when he returned, Koerner had to tell him to reel it back at times.
“It’s been a little slower start this year,” Koerner said. “I think that’s been hard for him to patient. It’s been part of my job to say, ‘Yeah, it’s OK. You’re a little bit behind to start with, but we’ll get there.’ ”
Coaching Schroeder has been “a dream,” according to Koerner, who said his speed has improved as a senior. Not just due to his ability and work ethic, but also his character and communication off the track.
“He’s always communicating and there’s a lot of back-and-forth with him, and respect and trust that goes both ways,” she said. “It’s kind of a connection that I don’t really have with any of the other athletes.”
Schroeder is healthy now, winning both the mile and two mile at the Region 5B meet on May 16. However, he downplayed having the best mile time to potentially win his first state title. He’s just ready to run.
“You got favorites, but it always doesn’t play out that way,” Schroeder said. “You just got to see come race day and give it your all.”
Koerner added: “He really wants it.”