DIXFIELD — Salena Sawtelle is trying to run for gold this summer.

Salena, a senior at Dirigo High School and member of the track and field team, was selected to join 300 student athletes from the United States competing in the Down Under Sports event to be held on the Gold Coast of Australia this July.

Down Under Sports was founded in 1989 by New Zealander George O’Scanlon, who wanted to bring the American pastime of football to Australia. The company grew to include events in other sports including volleyball, wrestling, basketball and cross country. 

Robert Goodell, recruiting coordinator for Down Under Sports, said Sawtelle was recognized for being a top finisher in states, and especially for her accomplishments in the 400 meter.

Other students throughout Maine were sent letters inviting them to the event but only one other student, Colby Fitchett of Berwick, accepted the invitation.

Goodell said more than 1,200 athletes from multiple countries will participate in all sports during the 2012 summer events. Recruiters have guidelines for selecting athletes in an attempt to make the sports events competitive.

The company mails letters informing athletes if they have been chosen.

“About 90 percent of the letters that are mailed get thrown away before they are even opened,” he said.

Salena and her mother, Lynn Sawtelle, said when they received the letter this spring they both thought it was a scam.

After researching the company and calling Down Under Sports, Lynn Sawtelle said she realized what a great opportunity it would be for her daughter.

“I thought it was a once-in-a-lifetime chance and not everyone gets to do this,” she said.

Salena has been participating in track and field sports since fourth grade and also competes in other sports, including snowshoeing with the local snowshoe club Le Paresseux. Salena has won best athlete for the past five years for the club.

Salena said she was excited about the opportunity to compete and to meet other athletes from around the world.

Salena’s trip to Australia is in July with athletes meeting in California and then flying together to Sydney for their first practice. There will be two days of events on the Gold Coast of Australia and athletes will be given opportunities to see attractions and wildlife during their stay.

The cost of the trip for Salena is around $5,500 and she has begun to raise that amount through dinners, bottle drives and fundraisers.

Salena will be hosting a chemical-free dance from 7 to 11 p.m. on Sunday at the Funky Red Barn in Bethel for high school students. There will also be a car wash available Saturday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. in the Bangor Savings Bank parking lot.

Anyone wishing to make donations can call Lynn Sawtelle at 562-7521, or visit www.downundersports.com.

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Dirigo runner Salena Sawtelle.

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