Of all the barriers David Aristil will need to clear at the NCAA Outdoor Championships, the University of South Florida track and field athlete believes the most difficult are mental.
When surrounded by the best on college track's biggest stage, it's easy to get caught up in what your competitors are capable of and where that could leave you at the end of the day. The goal, according to Aristil, one of 24 national qualifiers in the men's 400-meter hurdles, is simply to stay focused on what he can control and what transpires in his lane.
That can be easier said than done.
"That right there is a big barrier for some athletes, worrying about what the other guy is going to do, worrying about pacing yourself to them. You just have to run your own race," said Aristil, who begins competition today in Des Moines, Iowa. "That's one of the mistakes I usually suffer from, so I have to work on that."
Two things that should help Aristil, who is a junior, are his experience from last year, when he battled through anxiety in his first trip to the championship meet and finished fifth, and his winning performances at his two most recent meets.
"I feel like it gives me a little bit of confidence in myself, so where I can stay focused on myself, not really worry about my opponents but really work on trying to stay consistent with what I'm doing," Aristil said of winning titles at the Big East Conference championships and the NCAA East Regional.
Aristil's region-winning time of 50.09 seconds has him seeded sixth overall in the event, behind five athletes from the West Regional who ran sub-50 times. His best performance was a school-record 50.03 seconds to win the Big East title.
Aristil believes he is peaking at the right time, making him confident that he can make a run at a second All-America honor, which goes to the top eight finishers, and perhaps even cracking that 50-second barrier and contending for a national title.
"God willing, it's very much possible," he said.
Senior Stephanie Duffy (women's pole vault), and juniors Jared Thomas (men's discus) and Nicole Rozario (women's 3,000-meter steeplechase) also will compete for USF at the NCAA Outdoor Championships.