North­ern grad­u­ate Sweeney runs to All-Amer­i­can sta­tus

North­ern grad­u­ate Sweeney fin­ishes 13th at na­tional race

The Calvert Recorder - - Front Page - By ANDY STATES as­[email protected]­news.com

Lin­ing up for his first na­tional race at the NCAA Di­vi­sion II cross coun­try cham­pi­onships last Satur­day in Pitts­burgh, the mo­ment got to Char­lie Sweeney for just a bit, as he fell down as the race started on the Schen­ley Park course that had been soaked by snow and rain in the days lead­ing up to the race.

“I got up real quick and they restarted it which was an added bonus,” said Sweeney, a Western Colorado Univer­sity red­shirt fresh­man who grad­u­ated from North­ern in 2017. “That kind of helped me calm my nerves down. ... Once we got into it, it was just be­ing care­ful around the tight turns and be­ing care­ful to not be go­ing too fast or be around too many peo­ple who could be fall­ing. From then on it was just try­ing to take the path of least re­sis­tance or least mud and try­ing to stay on the grass as much as pos­si­ble.”

What­ever the route ul­ti­mately taken, things turned out quite well for Sweeney as he fin­ished 13th in the race to earn All-Amer­i­can sta­tus. Sweeney fin­ished the 10K race in 32 min­utes 42.8 sec­onds, 56.4 sec­onds be­hind the win­ning time. Western Colorado also earned a podium team fin­ish, com­ing in third.

It all seems a far cry from where the North­ern grad­u­ate was just a few years ago, as Sweeney didn’t even en­ter­tain com­pet­i­tive run­ning se­ri­ously un­til he was half­way through high school. While he didn’t dive in un­til later than many of his peers, that rel­a­tive in­ex­pe­ri­ence is some­thing that he be­lieves some­times plays in his fa­vor.

“I did foot­ball and bas­ket­ball up un­til my ju­nior year of high school, so I didn’t start tak­ing run­ning too se­ri­ously un­til I was in 11th grade,” he said. “That’s when I started getting into it and de­vel­op­ing. I think that’s only helped me in the grand scheme of things. There are a lot of peo­ple my age or even younger who have been run­ning four or even five years more than I have and they’re getting kind of men­tally burned out.

“This is the most mileage I’ve ever run in my life. I get to see how my body ad­justs to that and it gives me more op­por­tu­ni­ties to try out new things and it also helps me not get burned out on rac­ing. If I’ve been rac­ing an ex­po­nen­tially lower amount of time than most peo­ple I’m com­pet­ing against at the na­tional meet, that’s just go­ing to help me. I look for­ward to rac­ing that much more than these guys who have been to na­tion­als who knows how many more times, these fifth-year se­niors com­pet­ing in their 20th na­tional meet or what­ever. ... It just makes me that much more ex­cited to go out and do these things I love.”

Sweeney’s high school coach, North­ern head cross coun­try coach Josh Daw­son, had been an in­ter­ested ob­server from afar through­out the sea­son and made the trek north for the na­tional meet.

“I al­ways said if I had any­one make it to na­tion­als, I’d do my best to get there,” Daw­son said. “Luck­ily D-II Nats was in Pitts­burgh so my wife and I make a week­end of it, saw a Pen­guins game against the Flyers. Over­all, it was a fun week­end. ... I texted him about a month ago and said, ‘I need you to an­swer the fol­low­ing ques­tions: Are you 100 per­cent healthy? Is the team healthy? Is there any way you guys screw this up?’ He said, ‘Yes, yes and there’s al­ways a way.’”

For Daw­son, watch­ing the race was no dif­fer­ent than watch­ing Sweeney run when he was com­pet­ing for the Pa­tri­ots.

“I handed my wife my phone and asked her to take a lot of pic­tures be­cause I wasn’t go­ing to think about it,” Daw­son said, not­ing that he ran around the course cheer­ing Sweeney on sim­i­lar to what he would do dur­ing a typ­i­cal high school meet. “It was a 2K loop, so I prob­a­bly saw Char­lie eight times.”

The way the Sweeney’s race played out had a fa­mil­iar look for North­ern’s coach.

“It was just like high school watch­ing him in the front of the race and just getting out­kicked at the end,” Da­won said, “but it was twice as long as the high school race, be­cause it was a 10K, and it was na­tion­als. It was just re­ally weird see­ing him very com­fort­able and very con­fi­dent in the front of the race. It was re­ally cool to see.

“I al­ways ex­pected him to be at that level just be­cause of his ded­i­ca­tion. But I didn’t ex­pect it to be his fresh­man year, even though he’s a red­shirt fresh­man. With what he ran in the spring, I would not have pre­dicted what he did Satur­day. But there aren’t many kids who work as hard as he does.”

Com­pet­ing for Western Colorado, Sweeney trains at an el­e­va­tion much dif­fer­ent than his av­er­age com­peti­tor.

“It’s a re­ally nice dif­fer­ence. We’re at al­most 8,000 feet,” Sweeney said. “I’ve got­ten re­ally used to run­ning at al­ti­tude and feel­ing the lungs burn­ing ef­fect of al­ti­tude. Go­ing down to sea level, as soon as you step off the plane you can just feel your body and your lungs get sat­u­rated with oxy­gen. ... But in terms of rac­ing you can feel it, for sure, but on Satur­day I couldn’t re­ally feel it nec­es­sar­ily just be­cause it was so slow and such a muddy course. It ob­vi­ously helps you get in shape and re­cover faster and use less oxy­gen than a sea-level per­son.”

The fu­ture looks bright for Sweeney and his Western Colorado team­mates, as al­most the en­tire team is slated to re­turn. The team’s 117 points left it be­hind only Grand Val­ley State (Mich.) and Colorado Mines, which fin­ished with re­spec­tive to­tals of 89 and 99 at the na­tional meet.

“It’s def­i­nitely awe­some. We’re only los­ing one of our guys next year who is grad­u­at­ing at the end of this year,” Sweeney said. “But we also red­shirted a twotime All-Amer­i­can who was All-Amer­i­can in cross coun­try last year and then 10K in out­door track. We’ll have him next year and a cou­ple guys who were deal­ing with some in­juries. We’ll have them next year, so in ad­di­tion to the six that we’ll bring back from the team this year we have at least three other guys who are ready and will be more than will­ing to step up. ... It’s awe­some to think about.”

And while not long ago any col­le­giate ath­letic as­pi­ra­tions he har­bored cen­tered around other sports, Sweeney is quite con­tent with the route he’s taken.

“I wouldn’t have changed any­thing,” he said. “I had a lot of fun play­ing foot­ball and bas­ket­ball and I learned a lot of valu­able life les­sons, but it’s crazy how much of the world, both from a train­ing stand­point and lit­er­ally trav­el­ing, run­ning has opened up for me.”

SUB­MIT­TED PHOTO

Western Colorado Univer­sity red­shirt fresh­man Char­lie Sweeney, a 2017 North­ern High School grad­u­ate, fin­ished 13th at the NCAA Di­vi­sion II cross coun­try cham­pi­onships at Schen­ley Park in Pitts­burgh on Satur­day.

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