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The book of Eli: Competing at home and breaking records

Bradley track's Eli Rieker
Eli Rieker
Eli Rieker runs against the competition

Bradley’s track and field team has had its fair share of athletes call Peoria home over the years. People come from out of the state and even out of the country to run for the Braves in Division I track.

One runner in particular didn’t have to go very far.

Peoria’s own Eli Rieker is entering his junior year on the Hilltop as a sprinter for the Braves. A four-year letterwinner at Peoria Christian, Rieker has already made waves in just four meets this winter.

“I’m giving everything I have this season,” Rieker said. “Holding nothing back and basically laying it all out there on the track this year. It’s kind of a different mindset I’ve had compared to the previous two years.”

In his first indoor season, Rieker broke the school record in the 60-meter that stood for nearly 45 years. The next year, he broke his own record in the 60-meter and toppled the program record in the 200-meter at the MVC Championship. Outdoors, Rieker broke a 37-year-old school record in the 200-meter at the conference championship.

His follow-up to a record-breaking two years? Doing it again this season, winning Illinois State’s John Coughlan Invite with a school record in the 60-meter and breaking his own record twice in the 200-meter at Iowa and IUPUI. His current personal bests of 6.83 in the 60 and 21.76 in the 200 sit atop the Bradley record books.

“If you would have told me what I’m running now my freshman year, I definitely wouldn’t have believed you,” Rieker said. “It’s been cool to improve every year and every race.”

A lot of Rieker’s success can be tied back to Peoria Christian. His senior year, Rieker took home conference and sectional titles in the 100-meter and 4x100 relay, sending him to state where he placed fourth in both races. His strong senior season earned him the Peoria Journal Star Central Illinois Area Track and Field Player of the Year.

Rieker also took home the gold in the 200-meter sectional, just beating out fellow Charger Ross Brickner – one of Rieker’s best friends on the team. Brickner joined Rieker as a top-five finisher in the 4x100 state relay.

“I really enjoyed my teammates, specifically senior year,” Rieker said. “We had a really good time senior year getting close at practices and it paid off in the meet.”

Rieker says Peoria Christian also did a good job preparing him for the grind of Division I track, as his coaches’ emphasis in the weight room and on his technique paid dividends. According to Rieker, the biggest difference between high school and college track is the intensity between races.

“In high school you could run three to four races a meet, and in college after one or two you’re just gassed,” Rieker said. “It takes so much more out of you in college.”

When it came time for Rieker to choose a school, the proximity to home made deciding on Bradley a no-brainer. However, that decision was put in limbo when changes occurred at the top of the coaching tree.

Decorated head coach Darren Gauson moved on to New Mexico before this season, leaving the reins to Andrew Carlson. A new head coach can cause many athletes to reconsider where they want to compete, but Rieker took the challenge head-on.

“When I first got here I sat down virtually and just met with everyone, and I was taken aback at Eli’s maturity, his demeanor and how professional he was throughout the whole process,” Carlson said. “A new coach and everything, a lot of people had trepidation and Eli was just very confident but very open to trying new things and I was very appreciative of his attitude from the start.”

Rieker’s record-breaking prowess can be attributed to assistant coach Max Frye, someone Rieker says has helped him improve his technique tenfold. He’s also gotten a lot stronger in the weight room, which is something every coach is paying attention to.

“I’ve been very impressed with Eli, but I’m also not surprised,” Carlson said. “I don’t get to see the sprinters every single day, but every time I’ve gotten to see him work he’s just really focused and determined in the practice environment.”

Rieker’s success has also confirmed what Carlson already knew: Peoria has some good athletes.

“Really exciting to have someone from town, especially someone like Eli who’s family is such an integral part of the community as well,” Carlson said. “It’s super important for us to continue to recruit locally and get kids to Bradley who are from local and the state of Illinois. Eli’s given us a tremendous start, especially on the sprint side, to build that group up and make it stronger and if we can do that locally I would be more than happy to do that.”

With the track season just getting underway, there’s plenty of opportunities for Rieker to break more records and take things to the next level.

“Every race there’s still stuff to work on and get better, whether it be starting out on the blocks, your technique or how you finish the race there’s always something to improve,” Rieker said. “You never have the perfect race.”

That mindset has brought Rieker to where he is today – an important part of a Braves team vying for a Missouri Valley Championship. Carlson sees it too, and he’s ready to find out what’s in store for Peoria’s own.

“I’m starting to see the results make sense because of how he approaches his whole training, but I also think there’s a lot more to come for him as well,” Carlson said. “I don’t think his best has shown yet either so I’m excited for what’s gonna happen next.”

Mason Klemm is a reporting intern for WCBU. He is studying sports communication at Bradley University and is expected to graduate in May 2024.