Two months ago, injured Athletics Nelson runner Jeff Lautenslager was treading water in a pool at his grandmother's retirement centre and wondering what had become of his promising running career.
His plans to win a medal at his final New Zealand secondary schools championships were dashed by a sprained and swollen right foot.
"I couldn't comprehend that everything I had worked for the past four months had been torn away," Lautenslager said.
Last night, Lautenslager was again running through water - puddles that formed from a rainy evening on the Cook's Garden track in Wanganui. Lautenslager raced past teammate Mike Lowe in the final 200m of the Cook's Classic Junior Mile and on to the shoulder of New Zealand secondary school's champion Jordan Rackham of Invercargill.
Rackham held off Lautenslager to win by 10m in 4min 20.79sec. But Lautenslager's second place finish in a personal best 4:21.93 on a wet track and off a pedestrian early pace proved his running career is back on course.
The foot injury occurred after a 1000m race at an Athletics Nelson Twilight Series meet on October 30. He spent much of the next four weeks aqua jogging and riding a stationary bicycle.
He recovered in time to finish seventh in the 3000m at the New Zealand secondary school's championships in Hamilton on December 8 and fifth in the John Walker mile in Auckland six days later.
Back into his normal training routine, Lautenslager set his eyes on the rest of the season.
He finished third in Saturday's New Zealand junior 3000m championships, a race won by Lowe. Last night Rackham led through a sluggish 2: 15first 800m.
Lowe made a bold move 500m from the finish line, only to be overtaken by Rackham and Lautenslager.
"I was struggling to hang in there down the backstretch, but when I went by the 200 metre mark I knew I had a good chance of beating (Rackham)," said Lautenslager, who covered the last 600m in 1:31. "He just had a little more speed down the home stretch."
Lowe finished third in a near personal best 4:23.57 . Nelson's Josh Barry was third in 4:37.83.
Former Nelson runner Matt Russ made a successful return to New Zealand racing, finishing fifth in the senior mile in 4: 11.01 in a race won by Olympic silver medallist Nick Willis in 3: 55.98.
Former Athletics Nelson runner Alex Jordan of Wellington finished fifth in the A heat of the 200m in 22.08. Matthew Keeley of Nelson finished fifth in the B heat of the 200m in 25.05.
- The Nelson Mail