Thursday, August 8, 2013

Marcus O'Sullivan Provides Inspiration to Young Runners

Ex-Olympian O'Sullivan shares his story in Fredon

New Jersey Herald
August 7, 2013

FREDON — When Marcus O'Sullivan comes to speak at the X-Treme Running Camp every year, he doesn't just talk about running and his success in it.

The former Olympian for Ireland and current cross country and track and field head coach for Villanova likes to illustrate to the campers a tale that has a greater meaning.

"The story I have is really about life. It just happens to be in the medium of running," O'Sullivan said to the approximately 50 campers during a 15-minute speech at the camp's 14th installment Wednesday at Lodestar Park.

"Whatever dreams, aspirations or goals you have, whether you want to be a runner, a rock star, a musician, an artist or a great doctor, I like to present my story in a way that anything is possible if you put your mind to it."

A four-time Olympian and a man who ran under four minutes for a mile run 101 times, O'Sullivan began his story at this year's camp, which started Monday, continues today and ends Friday, by telling the campers about the day he first dreamed of wanting to become an Olympian.

When he was 8 years old, he and his family would walk 12 to 13 miles every Sunday morning. During one of those walks, O'Sullivan asked his father if he thought he could make Ireland's Olympic team despite having no prior running experience.

"He said, ‘Well, '76 is coming up soon and you're going to be way too young and '80, I think that will be too early for you, too," Sullivan recalled. "But, he said, '84 is a good year.' "

After talking with his father, O'Sullivan joined a local running club. On his first day with the club, O'Sullivan said he ended up getting beaten by a group of girls and decided to quit the sport.

A few years later when he was in middle school, O'Sullivan wanted to get back into the sport by volunteering to compete for the school's cross country team. But after "a presentation brother" told him that cross country "is a tough sport and I'm not sure if it is something you should be handling," O'Sullivan decided not to join the team.

Though he felt "dejected" and sad about not going out, O'Sullivan said his passion for running was still there.

"I left it alone, but I kept thinking about it," O'Sullivan said.

O'Sullivan managed to get back into running a couple of years later thanks to his high school team having an open tryout. When he showed up for the tryout as a freshman, he took fourth in it and made the team.
"That was my formal introduction," O'Sullivan said. "I was thrilled."

Though he was on the team, O'Sullivan "never, ever won" while competing in high school or at his school's "field day" race. As a result, he did not get a scholarship for running and was told he had to "get a job."

So when he graduated from high school in 1979, O'Sullivan decided to take a job making spinnakers for ships at 25 cents per hour. While working, he met a man named Donald Walsh, who was a former runner for Villanova. O'Sullivan said Walsh wanted to help him by running with him every day for a whole year.

This training, in turn, made O'Sullivan really want to succeed as a runner.

"I was so determined to do something with my life," O'Sullivan said. "I knew running was going to help me get there. It was the way out."

The year of training with Walsh paid off, as O'Sullivan was awarded a scholarship to Villanova. But O'Sullivan said his time at Villanova had its ups and downs, especially in 1983 when he and his Villanova teammates did not win a gold medal at the Penn Relays — a feat that happened to them for the first time in 20 years.

O'Sullivan took this performance to heart so much that he was about to quit the sport entirely. However, he was talked out of it by Walsh.

"He said, ‘Failing isn't the worst thing in life that can happen to you,'" O'Sullivan recalled. "‘The worst thing in life that can happen to you is not trying.'"

From that moment on, O'Sullivan felt rejuvenated and wound up turning his career around at Villanova, where he would become one of the greatest middle-distance runners for the Wildcats from 1980-84.

O'Sullivan in 1987 winning his first of three World Championships
He then went on to run professionally for 15 years while making the Olympics in 1984, 1988, 1992 and 1996, winning the World Indoor Championships three times in the 1,500-meter race and earning medals at the Goodwill Games, the European Championships, the World Championships and the U.S. Championships.

He also became one of only three men to run more than 100 sub-4-minute miles in his career.

O'Sullivan hopes the campers saw his story, or what he calls his "journey," and can take away the lessons he learned about staying dedicated to running or whatever things they want to do in life.

"This is really truly about life," O'Sullivan said. "If you really care about something, that's important. It's the commitment to doing something for a long period of time."

O'Sullivan's story stuck with local runners Joe Dragon and Katie Maio so much that they want to better themselves for their upcoming track and field and cross country seasons for High Point High School and Kittatinny High School, respectively.

"It definitely did," said Dragon, a rising sophomore for High Point who qualified for the New Balance Outdoor Nationals last spring in the 1 Mile Freshmen championships. "It taught me to keep with it."

"Running is really important to me," said Maio, an upcoming junior and two-time North 1, Group 2 cross country medalist for Kittatinny. "I'm thinking about it now, so it (the story) made a big impact."

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