Most student athletes dream of qualifying for the Olympic trials and participating in the U.S. Nationals to compete with the very best from their sport.
For Mount Prospect native David Kendziera, 22, it is his reality.
Running was always in the picture, even from a young age. Kendziera said completing the mile test in elementary school sparked his passion, and he realized racing was something he wanted to pursue.
As a Mount Prospect High School student and hurdler, he said he worked with coaches who were "really into getting people to their potential," which he credits as a motivator.
"My one high school coach (Mike Kamedula) would talk about the current top performer on our team, who was a terrific athlete on and off the track," he said. "I saw him as someone getting all of this success and making it to the next level of college, and it pushed me to want to do the same thing."
Kendziera was recruited by the University of Illinois, where he competes in the 110 meter and 400 meter hurdles and is a member of the 4x400 meter relay.
In 2016, he was a redshirt athlete, both indoors and outdoors, and did not compete due to injuries to his back, high hamstring, calf and knee. However, due to his performance in the 2015 NCAA Championships, where he earned the bronze medal in the 400 meter hurdles, he was an Olympic trial qualifier. He made it to the semifinals and placed 15th.
"Because of all the injuries, I didn't have my best time and I wasn't fully prepared, but it was still something we wanted to do because I'm at that high level, and my coach's idea was, if we can do that and run at that level, it makes all the other events I get to less nerve -racking and I'm more comfortable for those situations," he said.
As his coaches hoped, his appearance at the trials brought out a confident hurdler on the track this past season.
He set personal record times in both the 110 meter hurdles (13.39 seconds) and 400 meter hurdles (49.00 seconds) in the national semifinal, is the NCAA 110 meter hurdle bronze medalist, Big Ten 400 meter hurdles champion and the Big Ten Track Athlete of the Year.
"When I sit down and talk to young men as we're going through the recruiting process, I tell them they have to make the commitment," Adrain Wheatley, sprints and men's hurdles coach at the University of Illinois, said.
"They need to go out and execute it themselves, and it's been nice to see him commit to it and buy into it and put himself in a position that he has been able to create his own highlight reel."
Kendziera recently competed in the U.S. Nationals in Sacramento, California, where he finished 12th in the 400 meter hurdles semifinal.
"The thing that's always gone through my mind since that point in sixth grade is can I top myself, not meaning can I get more accolades," Kendziera said.
"If I run my fastest time ever one week, the next week I want to do better than that, and that's been the thing that's pushed me in this sport and helped me earn those titles."
That inner competitive spirit and support from family and friends is what Kendziera said has kept him from running into personal hurdles.
"(My mother) would always ask me if I was happy with what I'm doing, and I would say, 'Absolutely, I like this, and I can see myself doing it for a while,'" he said.
As he heads into his senior year, graduating in the fall with a bachelor's degree in anthropology and later working toward his master's, Kendziera and his coach are ready to see him become a leader with his teammates.
"The other guys see what he does and what he has to do to be successful at a high level, and he's made a lot of sacrifices, but he's prioritized what he deems to be important," Wheatley said.
"I want to be the best role model athlete, best leader of the team during the fall," Kendziera said. "I want to be sure everyone's doing the right thing and not getting themselves in a jam."
As for his own personal goals, Kendziera said he wants to "compete better and get my times lower," continuing that goal of topping himself.