As a sixth-grader in Florida, Adriana Piekarewicz was a soccer player who ran a fast mile in gym class. Shortly thereafter, she began practicing and racing with the varsity cross-country and track team at her K-12 school. Flash forward to today, she is a career service specialist at the Wake Forest Office of Personal & Career Development and marathon Olympic Trials qualifier. Piekarewicz will toe the line in Atlanta in two weeks with the best marathon runners in America after qualifying in her fourth and final attempt to do so.
Her path to the trials was anything but ordinary, going from a middle school phenom to a regular student at Duke University who only ran for fun. Looking back, she realizes that choice opened up so many opportunities for her — like studying abroad in Florence, Italy and Switzerland — and gave her the ability to run in order to explore and have fun rather than focusing on performance.
Piekarewicz will race in Atlanta on Feb. 29 on a hilly course among the 511 best female marathon runners in the nation. Making the Olympic Trials was a challenge in itself, so she definitely won’t shy away from the task. This year, the qualifying window, with a cutoff time of 2:45, closed on Jan. 19. She had clocked her qualifying time just one day prior, at a small race in Georgia, to cement her spot on the starting line.
As a Wake Forest employee and top-notch athlete, Piekarewicz now prepares for the biggest race of her life in just two weeks. The Old Gold & Black was able to sit down with her to discuss her path to the trials, Wake Forest and more.
Samantha Wexler: What has your path in running looked like?
Adriana Piekarewicz: In sixth grade, I was running varsity, which was really cool, but I set this standard that there was nowhere to go but down. Everyone thought I was going to be an Olympian and I was really good, really young. I ran freshman and sophomore year of high school and then I just stopped improving. I was burned out and it felt like it was a lose-lose in the sense that I was expected to win. If I won, it was expected and if I didn’t win then it was a disappointment. I went to college at Duke and I was supposed to run there, but ended up not. I didn’t run on the team, but I still ran — I didn’t wear a watch or run on a track — and one of the girls I met there, I’d run with. She’d run in high school but wasn’t on the team either and she forced me to do a half marathon with her. There were no [personal records] to base off of and I slowly gained my love for it again.
SW: When did you realize that you could make the trials?
AP: Back in 2016, my goal was to break three hours in the marathon, and I had a breakthrough race and questioned if I could qualify for the trials. It was kind of a big scary dream and I got a coach who has been incredible — Donnie Cowart, who has been to the 2012 and 2016 track trials. He got fourth in 2012 and is a phenom. He’s really positive and deals with my type-A personality really well and it’s been fun again. I’ve found my love for it again.
SW: How did you end up working at Wake Forest?
AP: I graduated from Duke and went to get my master’s at Florida State, where I met my boyfriend. He is actually from Winston-Salem and we met there and started dating. I was living in Tallahassee for a few years and he got a track and field coaching position at High Point, so we moved here in 2016. For the first year and a half, I was just running. I met Ashley Wechter and she recommended a part-time role at Wake Forest and it’s been the best. I can train in the morning and then come here, and then I get off at 4:30 so I can do a double in the evening. It caters so well to it but I also have something else in the day.
SW: What was qualifying for the trials like?
AP: It was quite a journey to qualify. Back in 2018, I attempted in December and I missed it. Then I attempted in June and I missed it. I had one last shot, in December 2019, and I missed it. It was the worst race of my life; it was terrible. I thought I was done with marathons and that was it. My coach, who is a saint, told me there were six weeks until the window closed and we could give it one last shot. I qualified in this tiny race in Georgia the day before the window closed. It’s been a fine line of recovering and also training, because you are not really supposed to run three marathons in three months, but this will be my third marathon in three months.
SW: Do you have a motto or mantra that you think about a lot when you train or race?
AP: I don’t think there is a specific thing. Something I’m trying to get myself to really embrace is just being in the now and taking it one step at a time — run the mile you are in. I think that is what saved me in this last marathon. My coach ran it with me and he just told me to get to the next mile. We weren’t thinking about what would happen in 10 miles, just thinking about what was going on from mile seven to mile eight, mile eight to mile nine. Just focus on the mile that I’m in and not think too far ahead and overthink everything.
SW: Is there anyone who runs marathons professionally that you look up to as an idol?
AP: Probably Desi [Linden]. Her personality too; she is just such a fighter. It’s going to be such a race for the top three and I really wish I could witness it. I just really want her to make it and I think the course is going to be catered to her advantage because it’s not a rhythm course. You have to be tough. She is the toughest person I’ve ever seen.