Gabe Decker was selected for the Down Under Sports competition in Brisbane, Australia, based on his outstanding performance in section competitions. Decker will be running a marathon on April 27 in Wautoma, Wis., in preparation for the competition and to receive pledged donations for the trip.
Gabe Decker was selected for the Down Under Sports competition in Brisbane, Australia, based on his outstanding performance in section competitions. Decker will be running a marathon on April 27 in Wautoma, Wis., in preparation for the competition and to receive pledged donations for the trip.
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Local track and field athlete Gabe Decker will be taking his talents to the land "down under" for an international sporting competition. The Lanesboro High School junior was selected to be among 300 United States high school student-athletes chosen to represent their country in Australia. Student athletes from Australia and New Zealand will also be competing in a variety of sports like track and field, wrestling, football, basketball and more.

All the competitions are run through Down Under Sports, which is the 25-year-old brainchild program of New Zealander George O'Scanlon. In the program's mission statement, it states, "sport is the international language common to all countries and people." The purpose of Down Under Sports, as it states, is to develop the athlete, raise awareness of Australia, and to help create friendships. Decker is looking forward to it all.

Before being invited to compete, Decker had not heard of this international competition opportunity. In 2010, he had traveled to Norway for a bicycling-based experience. Fourteen countries were represented at the competition, which required each team to bike 40 to 50 miles every day for two weeks while lugging all of their food and equipment. It was an experience that taught Decker a lot about leadership and hard work. He doesn't expect the competition this summer to be as rugged as in Norway, but Decker is going to great lengths to prepare for it.

Decker received a letter last September making him aware that he had been selected to make the trip and to compete in Australia. "I knew immediately that I wanted to do it," shared Decker.

The only major obstacle in view was the price tag on the trip. As part of the information package Down Under Sports provided Decker, fundraising suggestions were included. Most of them didn't sit well with Decker, who felt he would need to show the community how hard he would work to deserve donations for the trip.

Already a three-sport athlete and highly involved in his school work and other extra-curricular activities at Lanesboro, Decker decided to train for and run a marathon.

"It's kind of extreme, but it's track-related," said Decker. In track, Decker runs the 100-meter, 200-meter and 800-meter races, relays, and does the pole vault. He plans on doing these events in Australia, since his performance in those events were what attracted the selection committee from Down Under Sports in the first place.

Decker freely admitted he is built for speed, not long distance. Training for the marathon has been a calculated journey for him. "Most people train for three months before running a marathon," shared Decker, adding with a laugh, "What I'm doing is not smart."

Due to his participation in football and wrestling, Decker was left with just over a month to prepare for the marathon he will run on April 27.

According to him, preparation is going great. Decker runs around four miles after track practice and fits in a 12-mile bike ride as well. On the weekends he usually runs eight to 12 miles at a time.

"I'm cramming for a marathon, just like cramming for a test," he said.

Decker has found he has had to do more exercises to overcome what he considers his biggest physical obstacle: bad knees. He said they haven't bothered him too much, but that it is a worry. Getting used to running on concrete has also been a process.

"Some days I feel like I couldn't run it." But if there is one thing Decker would never do, it would be to give up. "I am very self-motivated," he stated. "If I set my mind to it, I will want to finish the marathon."

The marathon Decker will be running is the Waushara County Crime Stoppers Jailbreak Marathon in Wautoma, Wis. It is approximately four hours away from Lanesboro. Decker decided to run this marathon because of the date it will be held. Track and field section competitions will be held just a month after he runs.

Decker said he had heard marathons can leave people drained for a month afterward, and he doesn't want to take a chance which could ruin his track chances.

Even the manner in which Decker is training for the marathon shows he is more concerned about improving his quickness and preparedness for Australia. He tries running shorter distances as fast as he can in order to maintain his quickness, while also building stamina for the marathon and his other sports.

Decker admitted he is very competitive and it will be hard for him to see people pass him during the marathon. "I'm not going for time. I'll kill my legs if I am competitive," he said.

The marathon is also doubling as his primary fundraising effort for his trip. Decker organized a pledge-per-mile fundraiser that has seen a positive response. Over 40 responses have come in from almost 100 people.

"I think a lot of people donated because they see I'm running a marathon," explained Decker. "It may be a result of other activities I'm involved with in the community as well."

The donations have ranged in value and it has made a difference. Decker and his family are on track to being able to pay three-quarters of the trip's expenses through donations.

"We've seen a lot of support from the community. These are great results," stated Decker.

Donations can still be made to Decker in person and online. Any checks should be made out to Down Under Sports. Decker has a profile on downundersports.com

No matter the final tally, Decker is planning on competing in Australia. All the invited boys and girls on the track and field team will meet in Los Angeles on June 30 and fly out to Brisbane, Australia, where the competitions are held. After a week of practice, the events will be held on July 5, 6 and 7.

Decker said he isn't expecting to medal in the running races, but he does expect to do well in the pole vault. Although it will be the winter season in Australia, the temperatures and weather are expected to be ideal for competition.

Training for the climate or altitude hasn't been a concern for Decker. "It'll be dry and warm and they are at a lower altitude," he said.

Since the athletes are also acting in an ambassador role, they will be meeting several government officials in Sydney. There will also be time for relaxation and exploration of the country.

"It's a lifetime experience," said Decker who is looking forward to visiting the Sydney Opera House, scuba diving, parasailing and seeing Australian wildlife. On the trip back, Decker will also be spending a few days in Hawaii.

After two weeks abroad, he will return back to Lanesboro with what he hopes to be increased skills in communication, leadership, and ability to adapt to new environments.

"I keep getting lucky with more opportunities," he said, addressing the experiences yet to come.

Decker will be participating in Boys State, which is a mock-government program run through the American Legion in Minnesota. He has also been accepted into the Naval Academy summer program, where he plans on continuing to develop his leadership abilities, goal setting and determination.

"All these things are going to teach me something," he shared.

Being a part of a small high school, he said, has helped him be able to be a part of a variety of things. "I can build leadership skills and better myself through competition," he said citing his involvement in FFA and FCCLA.

After high school, Decker said he is aiming to attend the Naval Academy or a university on the west coast for engineering. No matter where he ends up, he plans on embracing more opportunities like the Down Under Sports opportunity in Australia.