Overcoming hurdles in life are never easy, even if you’re an accomplished student-athlete like Redbird cross-country and track and field’s Jack Anstey. The junior middle-distance specialist and physical education major’s biggest challenge didn’t present itself on the track, but in studying 9,000 miles away from his native Australia.

“It was so much harder than I thought it was going to be,” Anstey said. “It seemed there wasn’t a day that went by where I didn’t want to go home or think about going home.”

With the support of his teammates, Illinois State faculty, and Redbird cross-country and track and field coaches Jeff Bovee and Jon-Michael Brandt, Illinois State soon came to feel like a home away from home.

“The teachers and the whole staff, everyone here is really accommodating,” Anstey said. “The fact that I had built so many close relationships within my major, with my teammates, and with my coaches made it so much easier to keep going until things got better.”

The accommodation of faculty, students, and coaches is what led Anstey to commit to Illinois State in the first place. When searching for colleges, Anstey recalls the difficulty he had organizing visits and the stressful process of trying to see different programs.

“It was refreshing the way coach Bovee showed a personal interest in me, and cared for how hard it was going to be for me to pick up and move to the other side of the world,” Anstey said. “A lot of other places it was almost expected of me, but with Illinois State, it was more about how they could make the transition as smooth as possible for me and help me to do the things I wanted to do. That’s when I knew this was the place I wanted to be.”

Anstey’s adjustment to student life in a new country is a fitting metaphor for the trajectory of his track and cross-country campaign here at Illinois State. Anstey wasn’t able to make it out of the preliminary rounds of the Missouri Valley Conference (MVC) Indoor Championships his freshman year, and although he made his way into the finals at the MVC Championships the following outdoor season, he finished near last.

The placements weighed on him. However, just as Anstey’s teammates and coaches empowered him to overcome his homesickness, so too did they help him find the strength to regain his confidence and strive harder toward achieving his athletic goals.

“My teammates helped pick me up after not getting out of prelims,” Anstey said. “Things weren’t going my way, but my teammates and the coaching staff really got around me and with their help, I put things back together and got myself into the shape I knew I could be in.”

Anstey then went on to win the 1,500-meter at the 2018 MVC Championships in June and was named MVC Male Track Athlete of the Week in March and April. Anstey would also qualify for the NCAA West Preliminary Round in the 1,500-meter, where he advanced to the quarterfinals and nearly missed a spot at the NCAA Championships. Anstey says he couldn’t have done it without the help of the team.

The support that Anstey received from Redbird cross-country has inspired him to coach in addition to teaching after he graduates. His goal is to give his future physical education students and those he coaches the same personal attention to detail that he was given by those here at Illinois State because after all, that’s what Anstey believes running is all about.

“It’s not about the fancy facilities,” Anstey said, “It’s about an environment where people are going to help each other become a better person and grow as an individual and as a student-athlete.”