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University of Michigan graduate, 202 Olympic steeplechaser Mason Ferlic aiming to eventually become an astronaut, may become a marathon next

American Mason Ferlic clears a water jump during his heat of the men’s 3,000-meter steeplechase at the 2020 Summer Olympics on July 30, 2021, in Tokyo. (AP file photo)

EUGENE, Ore. — Mason Ferlic may someday boldly go where no steeplechaser has gone before — space.

The 30-year-old with a master’s in aerospace engineering from Michigan has aspirations to become an astronaut.

For now, that plan remains a galaxy away.

Ferlic’s focus is on the track at the U.S. Olympic Trials as he tries to earn a spot for the Paris Games. Down the road, it’s making the switch to the marathon.

Awaiting him Friday night in the first round of the steeplechase were 28 unforgiving jumps over four fixed barriers and seven leaps over a water pit in the 3,000-meter race.

Michigan's Mason Ferlic reacts after finishing first in the men's 3000-meter steeplechase at the NCAA outdoor track and field championships in Eugene, Ore., on June 10, 2016. Ferlic may someday boldly go where no steeplechaser has gone before — space. The 30-year-old with a master's in aerospace engineering from Michigan has aspirations to become an astronaut. For now, that plan remains a galaxy away. Ferlic's focus is on the track this week at the U.S. Olympic Trials as he tries to earn a spot at for Paris Games. (AP file photo)

Tumbles — and plunges — happen. But each time he’s picked himself up and only gotten better.

“I’ve had some pretty iconic falls,” said Ferlic, who put off applying for NASA this spring and put on hold his doctoral work in statistics at Michigan so he could focus on training. “But (falling) is very character-building, to have those moments where it’s humbling. It makes you light the fire.”

For the longest time, Ferlic had a newspaper photo pinned to the bulletin board in his room. It was a picture from the 2015 NCAA championships, when Ferlic mistimed his leap over the water jump and splashed head-first into the pool.

A perfect 10 — if he was in diving.

Ferlic finished last in that race, but that photo meant a lot to him because of what it came to represent — that mistakes can and do happen. It’s how you respond and work that make a difference. Ferlic quoted Ed Harris’ famous line in the movie “Apollo 13,” when the actor’s NASA character said, “Failure is not an option.”

The next spring, Ferlic won the NCAA steeplechase race.

Just an example of picking himself back up.

Same with finishing 252nd out of 252 runners at the 2011 NCAA cross country championships his freshman year at Michigan. That could’ve sank his spirits. But it only bolstered him. He became an All-American three years later.

There are two distinct sides to Ferlic — the analytical half and the artistic/running half. Both give the other space.

The aerospace engineer portion of him is data-driven and specializes in statistics. He works at the Data Science for Dynamic Intervention Decision-Making Center in Ann Arbor.

Ferlic made the team for the Tokyo Games in 2021, but the lack of fans and cheers had an impact on him. He couldn’t help but focus on the red light on the NBC cameras, knowing that behind it were millions of fans tuning in. He didn’t advance out of his heat.

“I applaud those that performed so well in Tokyo,” he said.

About his astronaut plans: Those are literally up in the air. His brother forwarded him an application to enter the space program this spring, but the timing didn’t quite work out. It’s something Ferlic plans to explore after the Olympics and after continuing his work on his doctorate degree.

“It would be fun” going into space, said Ferlic, who at 6-foot-4 may be pushing the outer limits on height restrictions for the space station. “A random pivot.”

Another could be awaiting him in the running realm. He’s looking at a switch to the marathon.

“I relish the day,” Ferlic said, “when I don’t have to worry about a (steeplechase) barrier anymore.”

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AP Summer Olympics: https://apnews.com/hub/2024-paris-olympic-games

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