October 14, 2010

Freshmen Runners Display Potential

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Unlike professional sports franchises, who benefit from the luxury of signing athletes from other teams in their prime (LeBron James, with the Heat), later stages (Donovan McNabb, with the Redskins) or absolute end (Brett Favre, with seven interceptions), colleges must develop and nurture athletes within their own systems, and ultimately, the final product reflects years of hard work, advising and training within a single team. For freshmen Gabe Heck and David Forward, this process is still in its nascent stages, but just two races into the year, both runners have exhibited the potential to join Cornell’s senior trio — Nate Edelman, Adrien Dannemiller and Matt Da Silva — as All-Ivy athletes.

At the men’s team’s first race this season against WestPoint, Heck finished the 8K course in 25:26, good for eighth-place overall, and more importantly, the fifth and final scoring slot for the Red. Since then, Heck has moved up in the Red’s pecking order, impressing teammates and coaches alike with a 25:09, 93rd overall and fourth for the Red, performance at the Paul Short Invitational in Bethelehem, Pa.

For Heck, who finished as a runner-up in the Wisconsin cross-country state championship in 2009, this season’s success has been a welcome surprise.

“I just wanted to get through the season without being injured and running consistently. Team wise, my goal was to try and score some points and just contribute,” he said.

Like Heck, Forward did not expect to immediately contribute in races coming off a lackluster senior running year; however, Forward finished just one second behind Heck at Army, and cemented his placement in the top seven at the Paul Short Invitational, finishing in 25:26.

Thus far, both Heck and Forward have attributed their successes in part to their fellow teammates and environment while training at Cornell.

“The main reason I’ve been able to step up this season has been the opportunity to run with guys at the same or even better fitness level than me, who have pushed me in workouts and practice. It’s always a big motivator,” Heck said.

It’s been easier “having other freshmen and other guys in general, being seventh or eighth on the team, compared to being first all the time in high school,” Forward added.

The senior leadership and experience, Da Silva, Edelman and Dannemiller provide has also been instrumental in helping the two adjust to college running, and motivate themselves in hard workouts and races.

“That’s something I never had on my high school team. It’s a lot easier to run fast when you know you have three seniors who work their [tails] off every day, which keeps the rest of the team from slacking off. When you have those three guys who are so determined to do well from the first day, that gets you really pumped up,” Forward said.

While the close competition of two rising athletes might incite rivalry or disdain on some teams, such an assumption couldn’t be further from the truth for Heck and Forward. The two train together and live together as roommates, all while maintaining a friendly, healthy spirit of competition

“The team trains together every day, but since we’re roommates, sometimes on the weekend we’ll run on our own. [Heck] always does core work and ice baths and everything … he keeps me motivated and in line with that stuff,” Forward said.

While postseason performances at Regionals and Heptagonals will be the ultimate determinant of success for any runner, initial races for the two freshmen have been encouraging. Both have expressed the poise and produced results early; that said, expect them to be in the mix late.

Original Author: Nathan Lowry