In a small town in Polk County, Nebraska called Osceola, with a population of under 900 people, is a high school athlete who has accomplished a lot in his athletic career. He’s won a football state title, scored over 1,000 career points and made three state playoff appearances in basketball. But for Isaiah Zelasney, he’s most proud of his eight state championships won in track and field.
The Osceola Bulldog has won every race in state track since his sophomore year. Zelasney has won two first place medals in each of his events, which are the 100-meter, 200-meter, 400-meter and 4×400 relay. Still, he has more goals he wants to accomplish before he graduates.
In 2021, Zelasney broke the Class D state record in the 200, but because he ran with the wind behind his back supporting his speed, the record did not count according to Zelasney. Breaking any Class D record is one of the goals Zelasney wants to accomplish this track season.
As a small-town student-athlete, running in front of thousands of people at Burke High School is a different atmosphere when compared to running in smaller towns in Nebraska. Zelasney uses the regular season to prepare for his state races.
“It’s all about being ready for the moment,” Zelasney said. “You have to prepare yourself for them. With big crowds, you just have to stay calm.”
Luke Ericson, track and field and football head coach at Osceola High School, said that Zelasney is calm and collected at his state meets.
“The moment is really never too big for him,” Ericson said. “If you talk to him before those final races at Burke, I’m probably more nervous than he is.”
Zelasney has been the fastest Class D sprinter in Nebraska the last two years. His personal records in the events he runs includes running the 100 in 10.92 seconds, the 200 in 22.19 seconds, and the 400 in 49.31 seconds.
Ericson has known Zelasney since he was a kid. He said he remembers when Zelasney playws sports in middle school and went to the pool.
“You watch him run around and play sports and that sort of thing,” Ericson said. “You kind of know at an early age that he’s probably going to be pretty good.”
After the Osceola High School boys basketball team season is over following the playoffs, Zelasney takes his time to recover before he begins track practices. Last track season, Zelasney took a week off for his body to recover and also did not run in the first two track meets.
“When the time is right you know when you can come back to track,” Zelasney said.
Zelasney is more of a ‘lead by example’, leader rather than a vocal leader, according to Jason Zelasney, boys basketball head coach and older cousin to Isaiah. Jason claims that Isaiah has a very competitive drive.
“His competitive drive just opens the door to, ‘I don’t want to lose’,” Jason said. “When you have somebody that has that competitive drive that doesn’t want to lose, it’s contagious, and pushes others to be at that same level.”
Before Isaiah’s first race every meet, he warms up with the team. Thirty minutes before his race, he has his own warm up routine. After running his prelims, Zelasney shortens his warm up routines as he has other events to run.
“We cut down on what he does because of how many events he’s running,” Ericson said. “We just try to get him warmed up and up to speed about 10 to 15 minutes before the race, and then let him have at it.”
Zelasney has made an impact in Osceola. Jason claims that Isaiah is good with the kids in Osceola, and Ericson said that Isaiah has made a mark in the high school history books.
“He’s been a really special kid to watch and I think if you ask anyone in the community, they’d say that they’ll remember him for a long time, and we’ll certainly miss him,” Ericson said.
In Zelasney’s perspective, the people of Osceola have positively affected his time as a high school athlete.
“Small town kids can do big things with any sport,” Zelasney said. “The sport they show is unmatched compared to big schools. Big schools you got a lot of people that go, but then small schools you have people come to every game. They don’t miss a thing.”
This track season, Zelasney has goals he said he wants to accomplish before the end of his high school track season. Those goals include earning four more first place medals in the four events he runs, breaking the school 100 record, which is 10.4 seconds, run under 22 seconds in the 200, and run under 49 seconds in the 400.
“For me, I’m just gonna try to really enjoy every minute we get in because he’s such a special athlete,” Ericson said.
Zelasney will be continuing his track career after high school, as he will be running at Northwest Missouri State University. He said he plans to run the 200, 400, and 4×400.