A Success in Any Language
by Brent Harris
Success. Erfolg. Éxito. ChénggOng.
Whether you speak the word in English, German, Spanish, or Chinese, Ronnie Posthauer will understand you. And it’s a word that fits him perfectly.
Now the two-time All-American hurdler is ready to leap over another challenge. Posthauer will spend the next year working as an au pair in Germany while studying the teaching of English as a Second Language (ESL) with the goal of becoming a teacher.
That means he’ll speak more English in his work and in the classroom in Germany than he did in all of his courses his senior year at Wabash.
“All of my classes these last two semesters were in foreign languages,” Posthauer explains. “I had two German classes, two Spanish classes, and a Chinese class, along with a language lab.”
“It was pretty tough, at first,” he says.
“German is my strongest language, so I would go to Spanish class and the professor would ask me a question. I would have the answer, but I would process it in German. I had to think a while about what it would be in Spanish.”
Posthauer talked with linguist and Associate Professor of Spanish Jane Hardy—who is fluent in English, French, Spanish, and Slovenian —about the problem. She explained the dynamics of “code switching.”
“It’s when you’re speaking a newer language then switch to your stronger language to try to fill in what you mean,” Posthauer says. “So my German was overriding the other languages. I really had to practice the others, then take five or ten minutes before each class to try and think in that language to get the gears going.
“The tricky part was that I didn’t have the same language classes back to back. I would switch from German to Spanish to Chinese, then back to German before finally going back to Spanish. The only time I spoke English that semester was while I was having lunch with friends on campus or training for track season.”
Posthauer’s polylingual world is a far cry from his Ladoga, IN, roots. He had taken Spanish at Fountain Central High School but “hated it.”
“I had no interest in studying languages when I came to Wabash. I wanted to study medicine, thought about being a specialized nurse and maybe getting into anesthesiology. After my first year I started to think about what I wanted to do and realized these choices were more about the money than actually wanting the job. So I started to think about what I really wanted to do.”
Then he took German—“I just thought it would be an interesting language to learn”—and decided to minor in it. That led to a May 2013 immersion trip to Germany.
“I didn’t even realize there was an immersion trip with the course when I enrolled, and I got really excited when I found out,” Post-hauer says.
But as track season wound down and Posthauer’s performances ramped up, he faced a difficult decision. The sophomore hurdler qualified for the NCAA outdoor nationals meet in La Crosse, WI, and the trip to Europe coincided with valuable training time he’d need for the meet.
Posthauer turned to Head Track Coach Clyde Morgan.
“Coach Morgan always puts education first. He said, ‘You have this one chance, and you’ve never been before. You need to go.’”
Morgan also saw a way for Posthauer to pursue both dreams at once. The two met with Wabash Associate Professor of German Greg Redding ’88, an avid runner, who contacted a local university in Germany and set up time for Posthauer to train during the trip.
“The first day there I warmed up by myself,” Posthauer recalls. “A guy who looked like a coach came over speaking to me in German. I still didn’t speak the language that well then, but he spoke some English.
The coach was teaching a class on hurdling.
“So I started training with his students. I don’t think they expected much out of me at first. Then I made my first run over the hurdles and I suddenly had their undivided attention. They started filming to create a training video, and we became friends. It turned out to be one of the coolest things that happened while I was on the trip.”
Weeks later, Posthauer’s trip to outdoor nationals ended with a time only 1/100th of a second away from earning a place in the finals and the chance to earn his second All-America title.
Posthauer’s first had come three months earlier at NCAA indoor nationals.
“I was kind of disappointed,” he says of his fifth-place effort at those indoor nationals. “I’m on the platform and I’m thinking, Fifth place. I’ve never finished fifth in my life. Coach Morgan saw me and told me to smile. That’s when I realized how big a deal it was.”
The experience inspired the hurdler to put even more work into his sport, but also taught a lesson he carries with him to this day.
“I started training a little harder. But I also realized I was a little too focused and tense and didn’t enjoy the experience. I learned to back off during the meet a little bit and trust my training.”
During four years at Wabash, Posthauer qualified for seven NCAA championship meets, including the highlight of his career at the 2015 indoor championships, where he was part of the fastest field of 60-meter hurdlers in Division III history. Posthauer finished third at 7.96, the first sub-eight second time in the hurdles in Wabash history.
“Coming off that line at the finish of the race, I honestly didn’t know where I had finished,” Posthauer recalls. “I knew there was a chance that I had won, but I kept thinking, Don’t get too excited. Don’t be disappointed when the results show up on the board, because you were right there. I saw the first name come up and it wasn’t me. Then the second name came up and it wasn’t me. Then my name came up and I saw my time and how close I was to the other two guys. I was thrilled.
“I hate losing, but it was close. That group ran three of the top-five quickest times in Division III history. I don’t think I could have done anything better. It was the best possible way for my indoor season to end.”
He closed out his track career at Wabash in May, competing one final time in the 110-meter hurdles. In identical fashion to his race at La Crosse in 2013, Posthauer just missed a place in the finals by 1/100th of a second to place 10th with a time of 14.62.
His individual accolades include two All-America performances among many victories, but Posthauer says his time as a Little Giant brought a confidence and level of expectation he never could have achieved on his own.
“I never even imagined myself as a conference champion, let alone a national qualifier or All-American,” he says. “But I started talking with Coach Morgan in the spring of my junior year in high school. He said he saw me as an All-American hurdler. He told me I had the ability to qualify for nationals as a freshman. I looked at him and laughed!
“I thought he was just flattering me to get me to come to Wabash. But he was right.
“I had never won a team conference title in high school, so to be part of a dynasty that has won four consecutive indoor and outdoor North Coast Athletic Conference championships is really special. I’ve met my best friends through track and field at Wabash. Having these guys support you every single day, you really start to bond.”
Posthauer’s immediate future is in Germany. Hired as an au pair, he will also teach the family English. He’s planning on taking courses in ESL but may also pursue a master’s degree in German.
“I want to travel as much as I can before I settle down,” he says.
Passion. Leidenschaft. Pasion. Rèqíng.
Whatever direction his future may take, Posthauer has learned the importance of pursuing his passion.
“I don’t know that I have a particular talent for languages or hurdling,” he says. “It’s just that I love them both, so it’s easy for me to focus and commit more time to them. I was doing something I enjoyed doing, and that’s what allowed me excel so quickly.”