WEST LIBERTY — Joey Iske was beyond 40, and single. She had a rewarding, well-paying job in Chicago.
She wanted more.
“I wanted a child,” she said. “I wasn’t with anyone. I had a good job. I said, ‘I’m just going to do this.’”
She filed papers to become an adoptive parent, and she waited.
The call from a human services officer came in June 1999. A baby boy had been born, ironically in an apartment “about 50 feet away.”
Six days after the baby was born, Joey received custody and took him home.
She named him Tanner. She had no idea how fast her son would become.
The state track and field meet runs Thursday through Saturday at Drake Stadium in Des Moines. Among the headliners is West Liberty senior Tanner Iske, who won the Drake Relays boys’ 100-meter dash on the same track less than three weeks ago.
That feat supports the argument Iske is currently the fastest high-school boy in Iowa.
“That was amazing to me,” he said. “I didn’t really soak it in until I got home. I have all my bib numbers and wristbands on my bulletin board in my room.”
In the aftermath of the triumph, Iske was ushered to a stage on the Drake Stadium infield where the champions take the microphone and say a few words.
After Iske’s moment on the podium, West Liberty boys’ coach Gus Garcia pointed out a void in Iske’s brief speech.
He forgot to thank his mother.
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“That bothered Tanner a lot,” Garcia said. “He said, ‘That will never happen again.’”
“Mom and I do everything together,” said Tanner, who will turn 19 on June 23. “I love her to death. She’s the one who drove me to track meets the last two summers. She’s the one that helped make this possible.”
Tanner was “a super active boy,” according to Joey. “He was one of the fastest kids to get the training wheels off his bike. He wanted to be first at everything.”
When Tanner was little, Joey and he moved out of their apartment and into the suburb of Oak Park, Ill. Tanner participated in T-ball and soccer.
“I fell in love with gymnastics,” said Tanner, who was involved with it until seventh grade. “It was a huge part of my life, but I eventually gave it up because I wanted to play football.”
When Tanner was in eighth grade, the health of Joey’s mother, Jeannette, was in decline.
“I didn’t think twice about it,” Joey said. “We needed to come home. It was a pretty smooth transition.”
Joey, 61, was a 1975 graduate of West Liberty, where both of her parents had been teachers. Her father, Jack Iske, was the football coach from 1969 through 1973. Jeannette taught in the elementary school from 1969 to 2003.
Tanner had stopped racing against schoolmates when he was 8 or 9. He always won, and feared angering them. At West Liberty, he was ready to compete again, and became a multi-sport athlete.
Success on the track didn’t come immediately.
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“People think he was fast right away, but that’s not necessarily the case,” Garcia said. “He wasn’t running great times as a freshman, but he worked really hard in the offseason with our weight program. Steadily, he got stronger and faster.”
As a sophomore, he qualified for the Drake 100. He false-started.
“I busted out of the blocks,” Tanner said. “I messed up really bad. It was a learning experience.”
He hasn’t false-started since.
“He stayed after practice a lot to work in the blocks,” Garcia said. “Tanner has a tremendous work ethic. He does the little things that make a big difference.”
Last year at Drake, Iske finished ninth in the 100 prelims. Eight make the finals. This year, he climbed all the way to the top.
Iske is hopeful for a call from the track program at the University of Iowa. He was the 3A runner-up in the 100 behind Isaiah Trousil of West Burlington-Notre Dame last year. Trousil has graduated, and West Liberty is down a class to 2A, where the Comets could be a factor in the team race.
“I’m excited. We qualified in 12 events,” said Iske, who will compete in the 100 and 200, and 400- and 800-meter relays. “I want to be a champion in all my events. I want to go out on a high note.”
If he does, or if he doesn’t, he’ll know who to thank. And this time, he won’t forget.
“Mom’s my role model, my stone,” he said. “I wouldn’t be where I am without her dedication to me.”
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