(well I didn’t really have a choice)
Go Pre, Go Pre, Go Pre. By the age of 9 I was already an Oregon Duck. 9 years later I was a senior in High School and the University of Oregon didn’t even know I existed. I’m from Texas, so that was kind of expected but over half of the college’s in Texas didn’t know who I was. Some schools like UTSA, said they had no room for me and denied my questionnaire request. Also I was offered no scholarships from any schools. Unfortunately, that was kind of expected as well. I wasn’t fast…
My Personal records consisted of a 4:42 (1600), 9:59 (3200), and 16:15 (5K). Those times were not going to get me on to any D1 team, much less Oregon. However, I ended up finding my way (through school faculty connections) onto a small D1 school called Stephen F. Austin State University with a scholarship of $150 a semester. 4 years from then I would toe the line and maintain my high school mile PR for 10,000 meters (6.2 miles ) and found myself rubbing elbows with some of the best in the nation. All without an Oregon ‘O’ on my chest and that is the most important thing to me. Why? Because between the ages 14-18 some of us think that’s what we needed to be successful. We think we have to go to big colleges so our friends will think we are something special. If I could go back and tell my younger self something, it would be “don’t worry about what uniform you’re wearing, keep your focus on the task at hand and the endeavor you set forth”.
Now, did I have a choice to go to a big school? Absolutely not. Eventually, I found this to be a blessing in disguise. If any big school had offered me money to attend their school, I would have taken it in a heartbeat. But they didn’t, and I learned a lot from that.
I’ve watched numerous people that I have competed against, people who use to beat me by minutes, go run at the collegiate level and simply disappear. The word that sticks out the most to me is “complacent”, it’s very easy to become content with what you have accomplished when you run for a D1 Institution, and/or won State in High School. It’s easy to say, “I’ve had a really good career so far, I think I might ease off a bit.” A lot of runners today can relate to not having that luxury. We can either hang up the spikes and say “I gave it a good shot” or keep hammering until there is nothing left; choosing the latter is the most enlightening decision that one can make. By doing so, you choose a path of many low points but also, a path very extreme and satisfying high points.
I failed to make State in Track throughout my high school career.
I failed to make it to a big Division 1 college.
I failed to make the team my Freshman year.
I failed to make US JR’s.
I failed to break 15 in the 5k until my junior year of college.
I failed to make NCAA’s
I failed countless other things on my running agenda.
I kept failing but at the same time I kept making new goals and kept attacking them with relentless hunger. Learning from every failure to fuel my future endeavors
Coach Wetmore of the Legendary Colorado Buffaloes stated in the book “Running with the Buffaloes.”
“If you want to be successful in college, don’t go to Foot Locker or or run 8:55 (for two miles in high school).”
What I took from this quote, is that talent can make you a really good runner, but overtime, the athlete who has endured countless failures and has climbed the longer journey up the ladder, will be able to make most of what he has been given.
Nick Willis (Olympic Silver and Bronze Medalist in the 1500m) recently stated in an interview:
“It’s almost nice I haven’t yet (won a world championship) in many ways because it keeps you hungry”
Nick Willis’ career is one of many successes but he has fallen short of one of his major goals, winning a World Championship title. One can learn from this quote and realize that success leads to motivation, which can lead to more success. However, failure, if handled correctly, can be just as (if not more) motivating and important.
So why was not going to Oregon great for me? Because it was failure, and that turned into fuel for me. I wanted to prove that I was good enough to be on the best teams in the nation. The next 4 years turned into a long progression of training and fighting my way up the ladder. The first step was running 100 miles a week my freshman year. Eventually, I ran as much as 150 miles per week, during my Junior and Senior year. Somedays I would wake up at 3:00 a.m. to do an extra workout before practice because the coach’s prescribed workout was too easy. Unfortunately, I fought injury after injury but never gave in to an easy day. Eventually one has to quit saying “one day it will happen” and start saying “today it will happen.”
During my true senior year in college, I ran 29:34 for 10k at Mt. Sac, which qualified me for the NCAA West Prelims. There were Power 5 Schools everywhere, and just a few small school kids on the line. I didn’t have my best race, but I raced without regret. Three Oregon athletes were in the race and only one beat me, Edward Chezerek (17 time national Champion). It didn’t hit me until months later, that I was hanging with the guys from the big schools, the guys who get 4:00 HS milers, and the guys from the University of Oregon. Me! A small school kid beat some of the best, I rubbed elbows with my dream school and said “I don’t need you!”
What I’m trying to say is, your whole pre-college career, all you can think about is going to a big school, getting some really cool gear, and being in the new Flotrack videos. Many want to be in the spot light and be successful. I’m here to tell you that you don’t need any of that to be successful. A good friend of mine always tells me,
“Special people don’t need special things to do special things.”
So yes, a lot of you High Schooler’s are going to fail and not attend the college of your dreams. Take that and use it as a tool chase your dreams with reckless abandon; keep failing but don’t let failure dictate where you go from there.