July 12, 2012
Over the last two months, sophomore hurdler Ali Arastu (Northville, Mich./Northville) was forced to put his time management skills to the ultimate test. The responsibilities put on his plate far exceeded that of a traditional student-athlete let alone a normal 19-year-old college student.
After a successful freshman campaign in 2011, which was capped by a trip to the NCAA Outdoor Championships and the title of the team's Most Outstanding Freshman, Arastu had high hopes for outdoor season his sophomore year. With the help of head coach Fred LaPlante and his teammates, Arastu was improving each week during the regular season. He recorded top-three finishes in the 400-meter hurdles each time he competed in the event and was named Big Ten Track Athlete of the Week prior to the Big Ten Outdoor Championships.
The winter semester ended in late April, leaving the majority of track and field athletes with more free time to focus on training, but not Arastu -- he enrolled in a spring class to keep up with his difficult class load as a movement science major. Attending class and studying remained a part of his daily routine as the team headed into the post season.
At the conference meet, Arastu turned it up another notch and recorded a career-best time in the 400-meter hurdle finals of 49.43 to finish runner up. That time met the U.S. Olympic Trials automatic 'A' standard and guaranteed him a trip to Eugene, Ore., for the trials. With a sub-50 time under his belt, Arastu remained focused on the next task at hand -- the NCAA Championships.
However, in a routine workout about a week before the NCAA East Preliminary Rounds, Arastu injured his hamstring, which prevented him from training that week. Barley able to get over a hurdle on the first day of the regional meet, Arastu ignored the pain and earned a spot in the quarterfinals with a time of 51.47. The next day he did the exact same thing, only a second faster in a time of 50.44 to earn his second straight trip the NCAA Championships.
Prior to heading to Des Moines, Iowa, for the national meet, Arastu learned that he was one of two 400-meter hurdlers selected to represent Team USA at the North American, Central America and Caribbean (NACAC) U-23 Championships from July 6-8 in Guanajuato, Mexico. Excited and humbled by the opportunity, Arastu remained focused on the NCAA Championships.
Still struggling with the injury, Arastu went on to finish ninth at the national meet -- a 15-spot improvement from his freshman year -- and earned All-America second team honors. He then returned to Ann Arbor to wrap up the spring academic term and train for possibly the two biggest meets of his career to date.
But those weren't the only things on his mind -- he was also preparing to be a part of his sister's wedding. The wedding, however, was not a one day celebration that most people in the U.S. are familiar with. A traditional Indian Muslim wedding takes place over two weekends -- one in the groom's hometown and one in the bride's hometown. Immediately following the conclusion of spring classes, Arastu boarded a plane to Chicago, Ill., to take part in the three-day celebration with the groom's family from June 22-24. He flew back to Ann Arbor on the 25th and boarded another place to Eugene, Ore., for the Olympic Trials. On July 28, Arastu competed on the biggest stage of his career against runners he had idolized as a young athlete, finishing 23rd in the qualifying round. That same evening he flew back to Ann Arbor to help his family with the last-minute preparations for the second half of his sister's wedding celebration. His family hosted the groom's family for another three-day affair from June 29-July 1.
While most of the country was celebrating the fourth of July with barbeques and fireworks, Arastu was on yet another plane to Mexico for the NACAC Championships. His overwhelmingly busy summer came to an end with a sixth-place finish at the U-23 meet.
Despite his hectic schedule and lack of sleep over that two month span, Arastu gained experience that many athletes could only dream of.
MGoBlue.com caught up with Ali to see what he had to say about the incredible series of events:
On his success on the track in the postseason ... "It all started at the Big Ten meet when I got the 'A' standard time, which I was very shocked about. It was a great race, great time, great environment and all my training paid off right then. And then I found out that I qualified for the trials and got invited to Mexico for the NACAC meet. Nothing really hit me then, but when I was there I really took in the experience. Competing against past Olympians in the lane next to me, I was like 'oh my gosh this is actually happening.' Same thing when I went to Mexico -- those guys were all the top two people in each event. I was hanging out and playing cards with national champions and it put me in a whole new environment, a whole new place in the track and field world. That time at Big Tens really helped me gain those two experiences."
On his increased confidence and new mentality moving forward ... "I'm going step by step, but I'm actually at the point where I can start thinking about qualifying for the Olympics in 2016. Last year, I was just thinking about nationals and now it's a whole new step up. Next year, I'll be able to go into meets so much more confident in my abilities."
On competing with an injury ... "It was very hard. It was a hamstring strain, but I could barely walk on it for a week. Our trainers, Christie (Miller) and Mike (Hickey), are the only reason I made it to nationals. They did so much to my leg, I don't even know what they did, but it worked and I could run. I was very lucky because I got the 'A' standard at Big Tens to get me into those meets, but I couldn't compete as well as I could have liked because of that injury. I adjusted and accepted that I wasn't 100 percent and tried to run my best. I'm just happy I got to experience those meets. I did not want to waste those opportunities."
On juggling his academics as an athlete ... "I didn't sleep that much, but it all comes back to managing my time. I didn't really hang out with any of my friends. That was probably the hardest part because everyone else was done after nationals, and even my school friends wanted to hang out, but I didn't have the time. Even when we were traveling, I had to take exams and that was the worst. Everyone else was hanging out at the hotel and I was sitting in my room looking at my Physics book. I got through it and did well in Physics. I was confident that I could handle it all so I just stepped up and did it."
On his academic plans ..."My major is movement science and I switched to that this year. The reason I did that was because my final goal is to become a doctor, so I'm pre-med right now. It is a lot easier for me to handle the classes with track and I'm also doing neuroscience research now as well. It is easier to manage my time and do well in those classes. Now I can get better grades, I can focus more on track and research and whatever else I need to do. If I gain all this great experience I need, hopefully I can get into a good med school. I would love to go to the University of Michigan's med school."
On taking part in his sister's wedding ... "Indian weddings are very big with a lot of family and it's not just one day, it's multiple days. It took place over two weekends, the first in Chicago, where the groom is from, and one weekend here in Michigan. The first weekend was right before the Olympic Trials, so we went to Chicago Friday, Saturday, Sunday. I did all my workouts and still went to the wedding. There are three different kinds of functions. The first day is called the Mehndi, where all the girls put on henna tattoos and beautiful clothes and everyone is singing and dancing and getting ready for the wedding. The second day is the reception and the third day is the actual wedding ceremony, which is called the Nikkah. It was a lot of fun with all of the family helping out. Then Monday I flew back, Tuesday I left for the trials and Thursday I competed. Thursday night I got a flight back to Detroit, got back at 7 a.m. and started preparing for the wedding again. In Chicago, we were the guests, so we didn't have to do that much work, but for the functions here I was editing videos, finishing up speeches and running around doing last-minute things. All the travel was worth it to be a part of that with my family."
On the help of his teammates and coaches ... "They are the reason I've been doing so well in track. Coach [Fred] LaPlante figures out all these workouts in his head and at practice we don't always know what he's doing, but we know there's a purpose. He's a great coach and he's a big part of why I ran those great times and got those opportunities. My teammates have helped me get through all the workouts. Them pushing me and me pushing them is the main reason I've gotten this far. It's not just the workouts, having those guys as my friends makes it all fun. Every day from 3-6 p.m. it's fun hanging out with our whole sprints group. It's hard doing it every day but having them there makes it possible."