VU's best-kept secret: men's cross country
Oct. 22, 2012
* Editor's note: the Vanderbilt cross country teams will host the 2012 Southeastern Conference Championships this Friday at Percy Warner Park. For more information, click here.
by Weston Pletcher
Many fervent Commodore supporters probably don't know all that much about the Vanderbilt men's cross country team. Like how it is the only non-scholarship sport at Vanderbilt. So why put oneself through grueling workouts and miles of training for very little in return?
"People ask us that a lot," said sophomore John Ewing, who runs an average of 60-70 miles per week with his teammates. "Coming out of high school I felt like I wanted to see what I could do with a college training regimen; what I could do if I had to train at the next level with a team of like-minded, good athletes who are motivated, running more miles in harder workouts and competing against that next caliber of competition.
"To me, it's just all about seeing how good I can get. That was my personal motivation, but I think as a team this is an exciting time to be a Commodore."
The 11 men that make up the Vanderbilt men's cross country team go out every single day striving to reach that next level, the same as other Vanderbilt sports teams. And just like the football team made it to a bowl game last season and the men's basketball team won the SEC Tournament championship, the men's cross country team has exciting goals for itself, as well.
Ewing believes goals like winning an SEC championship--a feat his female counterparts achieved last year--are not impossible to reach.
"It's like every team is moving upwards and onwards," Ewing explained. "Just speaking for our team, we know we're not on scholarship, but we want to be a part of that (athletic success). We're out here working hard to get there. We're representing the school well. We rely a lot on each other and you have to in this sport."
Veteran Billy Malmed always has known that running cross country for Vanderbilt would not garner the attention of more high-profile sports. But he takes a great deal of pride in the bonds formed between himself and his teammates.
"I know that running might not be the most fun to follow and I know that we don't win the most, but I do know that we are the best `team' at Vanderbilt," Malmed explained. "There is no glory in what we do. We do it for each other. People assume that running is an individual sport, because you can't complete a pass or throw an alley-oop, but I assure you that no team depends on each other like the men's cross country team."
Malmed admits that it isn't easy going out there every day. Just like any other athlete he has moments where he feels like calling it quits.
"After not being hurt once in high school, I have gotten hurt each year that I have been at Vanderbilt," Malmed said. "I would never give up though. I care about my team and my teammates too much. Through Vanderbilt I have found a second family in my team, and no matter how much I might feel like giving up on training, I would never abandon my family."
Even with their distinction as a non-scholarship squad, Malmed and his Commodore teammates do enjoy most of the same perks taken advantage of by the remainder of the larger Vanderbilt athletics family.
"Vanderbilt athletics has a lot more to offer beyond giving scholarships to athletes," said Malmed, who hails from Deerfield, Ill. "I have a great academic support system and access to top-level trainers. The best part though is being part of a team. Being on a team made the transition to college that much easier."
That is why these 11 guys, who come from nine different states, go out there every day striving for excellence. They came to Vanderbilt to be a part of a team, even if they don't get as much public recognition as the football team or basketball team.
"I would like to see more support for the men's team and I will do everything in my power to help get my team more support, but I made the decision to join this team knowing all of the facts," Malmed explained. "Despite not being on scholarship, I have been given many opportunities that I would not have had access to otherwise. Getting to go to Vanderbilt and having the opportunity to be a student-athlete has been amazing."
Asked about the fondest memory of being a Commodore, Malmed--now a senior--does not look back on his.
"It hasn't happened yet," Malmed exclaimed. "It will be on October 26 when the Vanderbilt's men's cross country team beats the most teams at the SEC Championship in school history."
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