Sept. 19, 2013
Editor's Note: The following first appeared in the University of Iowa's Hawk Talk Daily, an e-newsletter that offers a daily look at the Iowa Hawkeyes, delivered free each morning to thousands of fans of the Hawkeyes worldwide.
IOWA CITY, Iowa --Nearly a decade after completing his first run, Sam Chaney decided it was finally time to walk.
As a sophomore on the University of Iowa cross country team in 2011, Chaney was battling health, academics, and ambition when he told head coach Larry Wieczorek he was considering leaving the team. Nine years after his high school coach talked him into the sport, it was now up to his college coach to bring him back.
"He was going to quit the team because he was so disappointed in how he had done," said Wieczorek. "He was going to quit running because he felt so discouraged with it. I talked to him and said, 'you know Sam, what else are you going to do?'"
Chaney said the conversation with Wieczorek got his attention. Since the day he was 12 years old, when he realized that competing on a football field amounted to little more than a life of "getting squashed," he had been a runner. His friends were runners. Not only were they runners, they were teammates.
"Wiz put a pretty good argument down and made me think," said Chaney. "I was struggling in school and struggling in athletics, but I needed to keep the faith."
Teammate Nick Holmes also got into the then-sophomore's ear. An all-region performer and a person Chaney refers to as a "big brother," Holmes met Chaney on the exercise bikes at the UI Rec Building and simply talked. By the end of their ride, Chaney had made his decision.
"I realized I had invested too much time in it, and stopping now didn't make much sense," said Chaney. "I knew I had talent and the support system was there. I just needed to stay the path. I thank Wiz and Nick for helping me get through that."
Since being talked off the ledge, Chaney has altered his training, diet, and perception. He no longer tries to keep up with the burners during the week, and he finds more time to enjoy what could be his final year -- he graduates in May, but still has one season of eligibility remaining.
"I've learned to relax and have fun with the group, versus trying to burn it with (NCAA qualifier) Kevin Lewis every day," said Chaney. "Kevin and I are on complete opposite ends of the spectrum as far as training goes. I can get to that point, I just have to go about it a different way."
"He's a guy that persevered," said Wieczorek. "He has gradually improved his ability to run. In previous years, he has improved his fitness and ability to run well in practices, but he would never live up to his training. This year he is putting it together. Now he looks like a racer"
Never before a scorer at the Big Ten or NCAA Championships, Chaney has proven early this season he is ready to be among Iowa's top five. Through two races, he's the only Hawkeye to place in the top three each week.
"He is now one of the reasons we're optimistic about the type of team we can have this year," said Wieczorek. "He has developed, learned to race and continues to get better and better."
Chaney is also drawing on his past experience to encourage this year's group of newcomers. The Hawkeyes have a wealth of returning upperclassmen -- including Lewis, junior Ben Witt and senior John Michael Brandt -- but a large portion of their overall success rests in the hands of a promising freshman class.
"Kevin is always going to be up in the lead, but where our pack is in respect to the rest of the runners is so much closer than it has been in the past," said Chaney. "It's a perfect storm of who we brought in and the attitude John Michael and I have tried to show the younger guys.
"We're all going to feel pretty (lousy) from time-to-time, but we have to keep our heads in it and use the group. It seems like now everyone has bought in. This year is going to be fun."