Dan Nehnevaj’s journey with racewalking only started a few years before he stepped onto the U.S. Olympic Trial stage last month for the 20-kilometer racewalk.
Nehnevaj, a Columbia River High School and Clark College graduate, took second place with a time of 1:31:59, but since his rank didn’t meet the Olympic qualifying standard, he won’t be going to Tokyo this month.
Before competing in Springfield, Ore., Nehnevaj had only walked in two other 20-kilometer races, including the 2021 Pan American Race Walking Cup Trials where he placed first. He beat out the Olympic Trials winner Nick Christie during that race.
Nehnevaj’s love for running started when he attended Lady of Lourdes Catholic School, a K-8 school in Vancouver.
After being persuaded by his older brother also on the track team, he started with sprinting but didn’t find a lot of success until he tried longer races.
In fifth grade, Nehnevaj started running faster than some of the eighth-graders on the team.
“I thought that was pretty cool and it made me stick with running,” he said.
In high school, Nehnevaj made the cross country varsity team all four years, and participated in swimming and track and field. From 2012 to 2014, the cross country team won both league and district championships.
After an impressive high school running career, Nehnevaj approached Bob Williams, the men’s track and field coach at Clark College, about joining the team.
He originally planned to attend the University of Washington to study engineering, and he intended to transfer there after one year at Clark College, Williams said.
At the end-of-the-season picnic, Williams called Nehnevaj over to speak in hopes of persuading him to stay on the team. After a bit of convincing, he decided to continue competing for Clark College.
The season didn’t go as planned because of a foot injury, but that didn’t stop universities from noticing Nehnevaj’s race times during his freshman year.
“He’s just a perfect example of an athlete that does everything you ask him to do,” Williams said. “He gets the most out of a situation.”
Nehnevaj’s race times improved significantly from 16:30 in high school to about 15:21 during his freshman year, of college he said.
In 2016, Nehnevaj earned the coaches’ award in cross country and was the scholar-athlete of the year for 2016-17.
The West Virginia Tech track and field coach came to Williams looking for athletes to recruit. He recommended Nehnevaj right away, Williams said.
As a collegiate athlete for West Virginia Tech, the River States Conference named him runner of the year, conference champion and newcomer of the year, among other honors.
Nehnevaj graduated in 2019 with a bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering, but stayed with the team as the assistant cross country coach.
Nehnevaj’s father, Jerry, shared his passion for outdoor activities, specifically biking, with his son. Every summer, the two would get on their bikes and make the 15-mile journey to Battle Ground.
Even as a young child, Nehnevaj would tag along in a “trailer bike” attached to the back of his father where he would pedal without having to steer.
His mother, Tracy, would meet up with them, hauling camping supplies, to spend the night at Battle Ground Lake. Then, Nehnevaj and his father would bike back home the next morning.
Nehnevaj’s training won’t slow down after last month’s competition.
He plans to continue running about 100 miles a week and on “long workout days” Nehnevaj will clock in 15 miles during one run.
Nehnevaj is ready to prepare for the 3-kilometer race at the U.S. Indoor Track and Field Championships scheduled for late February in Spokane.
The next 20-kilometer racewalk will take place at the U.S. Outdoor National Track and Field Championships in Eugene, Ore., which will serve as the qualifier for the World Athletics Championships in 2022.
“I’m going to keep running until it stops being fun, which hasn’t happened yet,” Nehnevaj said.