For anyone fighting to fulfill a lifelong dream and in need of some added motivation, you can find it in the journey of fifth year senior and former Duquesne track phenom Ian Welch.
Welch has dreamed of the Olympics since he was little and is now training for a chance to compete in the long jump at the Olympic Trials, which will take place in Eugene, Oregon starting July 1.
“I just remember watching the Olympics, I watched every summer ever since I was a kid and I remember I wanted to be one of those guys,” Welch said. “You know, I wanted to be on the big stage.”
But a spot on the Olympic roster doesn’t come easy for anyone. After being ranked as high as No. 7 in the country last year, Welch failed to finish in the top 12 at regionals; therefore, missing out on the national championship, which he believed was well in reach.
“I was like, ‘I’m done. This is ridiculous. I can’t believe I performed this low to not even make the top 12,’” Welch said. “So at that point I was like, ‘okay, I had a great career. That’s it. It’s over with.’”
He was that close to giving up, but Duquesne jumps coach Brian Reed wasn’t going to let Welch’s talent go to waste and ensured he knew just how close his dream was— 40 centimeters.
Photo Courtesy of Ian Welch
In May 2015, Welch nearly gave up on his dreams, but changed his mind later that same month with support from a former teammate.
Anna Simone, a good friend of Welch, is also training for the Olympic Games in Rio. Simone graduated from Duquesne in 2015 and is training in Arizona amongst other Olympic hopefuls with the goal of competing in the 400m hurdles.
Photo Credit to Kevin Yacker, Duquesne '15
“I think she’s probably had one of the biggest impacts,” Welch said, “because on a personal level from being teammates and from having the same goals and being able to accomplish some of the same things, she’s been one of my biggest motivators for sure.”
Even roughly 2,000 miles away, Welch and Simone are able to push one another in the times when they need it most.
“Whenever I think about how rough it is out here, or how training has me tired everyday, or I’m struggling with my own goals that I have to reach— I think of Ian. I think of how fortunate we both are,” Simone said. “How our situations differ, because he is doing this all on his own. With all that said, he doesn’t let that phase him. He is the ultimate determined professional athlete.”
When Welch is dragging and needs motivation, he looks to Simone’s Facebook posts for a much needed boost.
“She posts a lot on Facebook of her training and her progress and it kind of just like annoys me because I want to do that too,” Welch said. “So it’s just like, ‘alright let me get up, let me go run a few miles, let me go to rehab to make sure I get my body back.’”
Simone remembered their time at the East Regional in 2015 as the moment that stood out the most. Neither of them performed at their best, but no matter what happened on the track or in the sandpit, they were there for one another.
Photo Courtesy of Anna Simone
“We were both there to comfort each other,” Simone said. “He was the first person I went to, to say this is not the end. It’s our last competition [at Duquesne], but that doesn't mean we can't finish our goals as professionals.”
Welch doesn’t have those same resources as Simone does in Arizona; he is trying to make it work with the limited resources he has here in Pittsburgh. He says that forces him to work even harder and has improved his work ethic.
But without his experience at Duquesne he never would have met the four people to whom he attributes his success: Coaches Bryan Delsite, Mihaela Tripon, Brian Reed and Simone. They helped Welch realize his own talent and take it to the next level, which eventually led to him breaking the Duquesne school records in both the long jump and triple jump in his final year as a collegiate athlete.
Welch has stayed closed to the program after taking a position as the assistant jumps coach, which he describes as a rewarding experience for him, being able to give back what he learned to the current athletes.
He is slowly making his way back from a strained hamstring, but once March hits he says he is going to be taking his training up about “20 notches” with the hope of qualifying for the U.S. Indoor National Championships.
Welch’s track idol is Christian Taylor, a name probably unfamiliar to the general public, but a triple jumper whom Welch has been following for a number of years since he was running at the University of Florida and Welch was still in high school at Central Catholic.
Taylor is just shy of breaking the triple jump world record, which has inspired Welch to break records of his own. Welch additionally finds inspiration in the people he has known since his childhood.
“A lot of my friends that I’ve grown up with, they’re doing a lot of big things right now,” Welch said. “Some have clothing lines, some are working with Fortune 500 companies, some are starting their own businesses, so everyone is just kind of like following their dreams that they’ve had that we talked about when we were growing up together, so I use that a lot to really motivate me.”
Countless hours of hard work on the track, in the weightroom, and in the sandpit all lead to one chance of fulfilling a lifelong dream. Although he is content with just giving it his best shot even if he can’t make up those 40 centimeters, a spot on the Olympic team would mean a great deal to Welch.
“Man, I don’t know. It would be absolutely crazy,” he said. “It’s just one of those things like you’re kind of scared if it actually happens because for a long time it would only be a dream to you, so if it actually happened I might cry. I might cry a lot.”