> Story By Melissa Preston
Madras High School students Freddy Hernandez, Jacoba Smith and Mark Wunsch recently took their athletics to a new level and country.
The three participated in the Down Under Sports Tour in which athletes are chosen based upon academics and sports competition, and then travel to Australia for the competition.
Cross country runner Hernandez was chosen for being a top athlete in his sport in the Tri-Valley League and the state.
"I was nominated by my coach Lonnie Henderson and by other coaches in the league and in the state," Hernandez said.
Wunsch, a track athlete, was also chosen by coaches' recommendation as well as Internet records of track meet scores.
Smith was unaware she had even been nominated. "I didn't know that I got chosen. I was just handed an envelope that said the first payment was due and I said `OK'," she said.
The trio had to pay their own way to Australia, and Wunsch mentioned the trio raised funds through "lots of hard work," car washes, hot dog sales, bake sales, raffles, a taco salad stand and help from donations and sponsors.
Due to scheduling conflicts Hernandez noted the three were never able to fund-raise all together, but were able to work in pairs.
Although Wunsch and Smith made their trip before Hernandez, the threesome did many of the same things.
"Wherever you could walk, that's what you got to see," Smith said of their sight-seeing Down Under.
"We didn't do as much sightseeing as we should have. We walked around the streets and went to the beach a lot," Hernandez recalled.
En route to Australia, they stopped in Hawaii. Wunsch recounted that their Hawaiian travels included a trip to the zoo, snorkeling at a nearby beach, a luau and visiting Pearl Harbor. All three agreed being at the beach and snorkeling was their favorite thing about Hawaii.
"I like the beaches and the weather," Smith stated. "We went snorkeling and we saw lots of fish and turtles and weird little sea creatures in the ocean."
"It was winter in Australia because they have different seasons. I liked Hawaii because it was warm and it was only a (short walk) to the beach from our hotel," Hernandez mentioned.
Once in Australia, the trio practiced their sports and focused on their upcoming events.
For Smith, it was her first time out of the country.
"The first thing I noticed was the steering wheel was on the wrong side and their ketchup tastes funny," Smith commented.
Hernandez once traveled to Honduras, but said the most surprising thing to him was the high cost of food.
"Things there are really expensive. A hamburger was a lot of money and things are just more expensive in general." Hernandez remarked.
"The Australian people were very nice and polite," Smith said. Hernandez agreed, saying he thought the Australians were friendlier than Americans.
Smith explained each of the 50 states had their own teams and New Zealand and Australia each had a team as well. Due to the small size of the Oregon team, they combined with Arizona to form a bigger, 12-person team.
Wunsch estimated between 400 and 500 athletes competed in the track meets. Smith added about 300 of those athletes were from the United States, while about 100 more came from Australia and New Zealand.
While only able to participate in the high jump for MHS due to a basketball injury, Smith participated in the high jump, long jump and triple jump at the Australian track meets. She was unsure of her finish in the triple jump but finished in the top eight in the long jump and placed eighth in the high jump despite, at 5 foot 9, being one of the shortest jumpers.
Smith said high jump was her favorite event saying, "I like the feeling of getting over the bar."
Wunsch, also an MHS trackster, competed in the long jump and javelin. At the meets, Wunsch took first and second place in the javelin.
Two weeks after Wunsch and Smith departed, Hernandez began his trip as part of the 11-person Oregon/Washington cross country team, joining two fellow Oregonians from Gresham and Crook County.
Hernandez ran in three cross-country races, all around 5.6 kilometers in length. He won medals in two of the three races and beat his personal record.
In the 16 and under race Hernandez finished in the top 10 of 140 runners and also finished in the top 10 of 240 in the 19 and under race.
Against the Australian national team, Hernandez again finished in the Top 10, competing against 89 other runners. He won his third medal with his team, which finished third out of the 50 states.
He smashed his previous personal best of 17:40 by two minutes, setting a new best at 15:35.
"For that I have to thank my coach, Lonnie Henderson, for working with me all summer," Hernandez announced.
After the track meets Smith said the Australian team came up and would trade for anything that said "USA."
"I traded my USA track warm-ups for an athletic jacket that said Queensland," Smith added.
For Wunsch, his favorite part of the trip was meeting the Australians and seeing what their life is like.
Hernandez agreed with Wunsch saying, "Having the experience of going to a different country and seeing how other people live is pretty sweet to me."
Smith wanted to participate in the Down Under Sports Tour to meet new people and experience traveling outside of the United States.
"I learned a lot about how different other countries are," she explained. "It was fun and educational."
The athletes mentioned what an amazing experience the trip was, saying they were very thankful for all the community support they received.
"I would like to thank everyone for helping me and supporting me for my trip, for making it happen," Smith stated.
Hernandez said he wanted to thank The Pioneer for the publicity, the Madras and Warm Springs communities, Lonnie Henderson, Mike Donahue and, most of all, his mom. "It wouldn't have happened without my mom. She just wanted me to have a good time and bring her back some medals and I did," he said.