Becker to run track ‘Down Under’

PASSING THE BATON — Fairmont’s Joni Becker (right) hands off the baton to Cardinal teammate Jenna Pavich during a relay race at a regular-season quadrangular track & field meet last spring at Bob Bonk Track in Fairmont. Becker has been chosen as one of 18 Minnesota prep tracksters to represent the state through Down Under Sports in Queensland, Australia, in July. (Photo by Charlie Sorrells)

FAIRMONT — Australia is the land down under, known for kangaroos, koalas and other exotic wildlife, much different than Minnesota, the land of 10,000 lakes.

Joni Becker will find out just how different Australia is than her home state when she goes to Queensland, Australia in July.

The Fairmont High School sophomore was one of 18 Minnesotan high schoolers selected to represent the state on the 2018 Track & Field Team, through Down Under Sports.

Becker was informed of the honor when a letter came in the mail a few weeks ago.

“I talked to my dad about it because my mom wasn’t home. The first moment my mom saw it, she’s like, ‘It’s fake. Just throw it away,'” Joni Becker recalled.

“It’s a scam,” Julie Becker, Joni’s mom, remembered thinking.

The two then decided to do their own research and spoke with a Fairmont graduate who had participated in one of Down Under Sports’ events as a hockey player in 1999.

Down Under Sports also has events for athletes competing in football, cross country, golf, basketball and volleyball.

“I saw Ian (Bents) at a meeting and I’m like, ‘Tell me what you know.’ He’s said, ‘If you can go, you need to go. It’s amazing. I still think about it. It’s an awesome opportunity,'” Julie said. “So then I had to say, ‘OK, Joni, it’s legit.'”

Down Under Sports was founded by New Zealander George O’Scanlon in February 1989. He started with the Down Under Bowl Games for football, which then developed to include the Down Under Hoops Classic and the Down Under International Games.

“The Down Under Sports Programs use the common language of sports to bridge the continents and provide a forum for athletes from around the globe to compete head-to-head in the sport they love,” according to a press release from Down Under Sports.

Athletes are selected similar to the college recruiting process. Down Under Sports looks at an athlete’s progress in their respective sport and, for Joni, a two-time state track & field qualifier, the company was impressed with her 400- and 800-meter split times.

“That was our one question to them — how did they pick her? How did they find her? Is this random?” Julie Becker said. “They look at things like the Apple Raceberry Jam and who’s been to state, who’s been consistent throughout the years and such.”

Mike Labine, the local contact for the 2018 Track & Field team and girls sports coordinator at Detroit Lakes High School, also was able to answer the Beckers’ other questions.

“At first, I was really nervous because this is a big thing. What if I’m not fast enough or not even going to run? (What if) I’m just an alternate? So I kind of felt like that,” Joni Becker said. “Then we talked to (Labine). He said that everyone that goes there runs, so it was pretty exciting to know that I’ll actually be doing stuff down there.”

Julie will accompany Joni on the trip. The two will leave on July 7 and spend 10 days in Australia where Joni will have a chance to compete for “individual honors and a team championship title.”

“I’m excited, I’m really excited,” Julie laughed.

“She doesn’t have any pressure on her though,” Joni said, to which Julie responded, “I just need to show up.”

Before the trip, however Joni must raise $4,000 to pay for her trip. The family is already looking for ways to raise money and is seeking the support of the community.

“They have a fundraising campaign that you can send out to friends and family. She’ll seek community support from businesses and friends and family,” Julie said. “We’re trying to figure out some other kind of outside fun thing. (Joni’s father) Lynn’s done a lot of fundraising for baseball, so he has some ideas.”

Those who donate to Joni’s trip will be sent a thank-you ticket to be filled out and mailed to Down Under Sports. Those tickets will be entered into a raffle. The winner of the first drawing gets two tickets for an all-expense paid trip to the 2018 Down Under Sports Competition in Australia.

The winner of the second drawing wins a five-day cruise for two. The first drawing ends on June 1 and the second ends on Aug. 1.

Those who wish to donate online can go to https://downundersports.com/payment/b7a9-c579-0f2d. Those donating by mail can send a donation to Down Under Sports P.O. Box 6010 North Logan, UT 84341 or by phone at 435-753-4732.

The deadline for the trip funds is May 15.

Joni is looking forward to her trip to Australia and getting a chance to see another part of the world, doing what she loves: running.

“I’ve always been used to Fairmont tracks (and tracks in Minnesota) so it’ll be fun to see the diversity and meeting people,” she said. “It’s an opportunity of a lifetime.”

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