Downers Grove South girls track coach Egle Staisiunaite's summer trips to Lithuania have become routine.
The next three months will be about business, not pleasure, for the 25-year-old Staisiunaite, a world-class hurdler and recent member of the Lithuanian National and Olympic teams.
"I wish I was living a professional-athlete life all year round, so this gets kind of hard," she said. "But only getting to do it over the summer for three months or so really makes me value it more."
Staisiunaite was a two-time state champion in the 100- and 300-meter hurdles her senior year at Downers Grove South in 2007 and had successful hurdling career at Wisconsin, where she set numerous records and was twice a Big Ten all-academic team member.
Her career-best 56.58 seconds in the 400 hurdles at the 2012 European Athletics Championships in Helsinki earned her a trip to the summer Olympics in London.
She shaved nearly two seconds off her previous best time while at Wisconsin, and the experience of participating in amateur athletics' highest level reaffirmed her passion for the sport.
"It was an amazing experience, totally different than anything I've been through before," she said. "Hopefully, I feel my best is down the road. Now I'm looking to 2016 and Rio (the next Olympics site). If I continue to get the support that I'm getting from the people around me, hopefully I'll be able to get there."
Much of that support resides in Downers Grove, where her parents live and where she coaches at Downers Grove South. She retains dual citizenship in the U.S. and Lithuania.
Staisiunaite will compete in the European Team Championships this weekend in Tallinn, Estonia. She will take part in the 400 hurdles and may also earn a spot on the Lithuanian 1,600 relay team.
After a disappointing summer of 2013 – her third trip back to Lithuania to compete since graduating from Wisconsin – Staisiunaite believes she's in the best shape of her career. She began training with Abe Jones and the Trackmyspeed Track Club less than a year ago and has found a way to balance her conditioning and her work. She hopes the next three months will be a springboard to another Olympic shot. She will compete in at least five meets this summer, finishing up with the European Championships in Zurich, Switzerland in August.
"I'm in such good shape this year and so confident," Staisiunaite said. "It was hard to find a coach and a training group, but coach Jones has been very tough. And I think it made me tougher. Now I feel like I'm better than I was in 2012."