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Steve Matthies

Danielle DeCastro is ready to run possibly the most important race of her life — which is a good thing.

The Oregon Tech All-American distance runner will be in Naples, Italy, next month to represent the United States in the World University Games, and is believed to be the only NAIA athlete on the U.S. track and field team.

“I went blank trying to comprehend it,” DeCastro said the other day after she had been told by OIT track and field coach Jack Kegg about the opportunity.

“I basically said: ‘OK. Yah,’” she said. “I called my father and he said it was really cool and that if I could find a way to do it, I should do it.”

Finding the way to represent the USA is the issue.

She has to raise about $3,000 to cover room, board and other expenses. Thanks to a snafu by Liberty University, the transportation part of the trip is still being worked on from several angles.

To help with the funding, OIT’s Cindy Reed has set up a YouFundMe account.

The account, which had raised almost one-third of her expenses within hours, is available under Send Danielle to the World University Games.

“I’m still trying to wrap my head around it,” DeCastro said. “When I was younger I always thought it would be cool to represent the U.S. in an international event. I didn’t think it would really happen.”

She will compete in the 1,500-meter run, an event where she had finished second in the NAIA indoor national championships in February and third in the NAIA outdoor championships in May.

“She has been consistent all year,” Kegg said.

He learned about the opportunity right after DeCastro had finished her race in Gulf Shores, Ala., but with a 5K race still to compete in, her coach opted to wait until they arrived back in Klamath Falls before talking about the World University Games.

Being overseas will be nothing new for DeCastro, who still has one season eligibility for both indoor and outdoor track. She was reared in Germany, England and Australia.

One of the things athletes must have in the WUG, a competition which started in 1959, but has only in been in North America twice (1983 in Edmonton, Alberta, and 1993 in Buffalo, N.Y.), is remaining collegiate eligibility.

“I just want to be able to experience all of it, to carry forward what I have learned at Oregon Tech,” she said. “I want to help lay the foundation for the future that this is how far you can go with this.”

One big challenge for DeCastro? “Going without my teammates and coaches, doing it without the people who are the backbone of the people who have allowed me to do all of this,” she said. As the lone NAIA athlete, DeCastro will know literally no one on the U.S. team, and that includes the coaches.

The World University Games begin earlier than track and field, and DeCastro is not sure, yet, of when she specifically will run preliminary events leading up to the finals in the biennial competition which is expected to draw 128 nations in 18 sports with 223 events.

One thing that should give her confidence of a solid week is the fact she has the fifth fastest 1,500-meter time among all collegiate runners this season, regardless of division or class.

Steve Matthies is Herald and News sports editor. He can be reached at 541-885-4411, or at smatthies@heraldandnews.com.