Drew Windle's Wild Year: From Division II Runner to Olympic Trials contender, by Cait Chock

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windle2.jpgDrew Windle, photo courtesy of Paul Merca/PaulMercablogspot

Drew Windle ran in his first Olympic Trials, in the 800 meters, and made it to the semi-finals of the 800 meters. With an amazing season, from NCAA Division 2 Champion to new Brooks Beasts member, to his first Olympic Trials, Cait Chock reminds us that young middle distance runners like Drew are the future of the sport. Expect to see Drew Windle in many championships in the future.

Drew Windle's Wild Year: From Division II Runner to Olympic Trials contender

By: Cait Chock

In just one year Drew Windle went from a Division II superstar who had never lived further than one hour's drive from his family to professional runner with a dream at traveling 6,900 miles to the Rio Olympics. Crossing the line at the Portland Track Festival on June 12th, Windle's shiny new PR of 1:45.65 also scored him the Olympic Standard.

"The past year has definitely been an adjustment, and more so off the track than on the track," talks Windle about his move to join the Seattle based Brooks Beast Track Club. Leaving behind his familiar Ashland University's stomping ground, with the extra distance away from his family he learned to lean more on the support of his fellow teammates and coach. "On the track I expected this year to be a long road to transition to the elite level. Having this mindset helped me a lot this year when things got difficult."

The difficulties he's referring to were nagging injuries that came as a result of the bump up in his training. As his workload and strength increased, his biomechanics started to change; an efficiency that would benefit him long term but in the short term left his body struggling to learn how to properly compensate. Despite knowing things would eventually even out, any kind of injury cycle can mess with a runner's confidence, "I also was unsure if I belonged in the professional ranks for most of this year."

But fall and winter passed and Windle's body adjusted to his new, more efficient and powerful gait. "Racing well this outdoor season has erased most of that doubt. With each workout and race, I get a little more confidence, and I couldn't ask for better timing for that to happen." No better timing indeed. As we headed into the USA Olympic Track Trials Windle was confident, towing six week of positive momentum behind him, and had the goal of making it to the Final round. From there, "see if I can put anything together."

In an 800 field that was fairly wide open, Windle's training partners are some of his stiffest competition, "One of the many things that made joining Brooks an easy decision was that my training partners would be two of the top three in the United States." Nick Symmonds' and Cas Loxsom's presence brought a bit of familiarity to the media storm that is the Olympic Trials. Oh the beauty of teammates, strength in numbers and the extra shot of confidence going into a race knowing you're not alone. Most certainly, even teammates at the line are your competitors, but their presence has an air of assurance none the less. (On the eve of the Trials, Nick Symmonds had to withdraw, due to a very painful ankle injury-editor).

"Our training group is very well balanced," explains Windle. "Nick is our veteran, who comes from a strength background and pushes Cas and I during our longer strength sessions. Cas is becoming more of a household name for the men's 800, and has phenomenal speed. There are many workouts that end up with Nick and I trying to latch on to him for as long as possible before he turns on the burners." A humble Windle deems himself somewhere in the middle and readily available to, "pick up the slack if one of the other guys isn't having an 'A' day." It's a dynamic that works and the results speak for themselves.

A typical day starts with two chocolate chip pancakes and coffee for breakfast at 7:15 am. With time to kill before the workout at 9:15, Windle and Loxsom, "try to squeeze out a few episodes of our favorite TV shows like Friends, Always Sunny in Philadelphia, Family Guy, or Silicon Valley." Proving these guys aren't just fast but also have excellent taste in viewing.

Workout nailed, the guys devour lunch at the Brooks Headquarters and find ways to amuse themselves before their later weightlifting session at 3pm. Which could mean, "[annoying] the footwear team to get the inside scoop on Brooks' new shoes and spikes coming out," jokes Windle.

With the work done for the day, the priority shifts to recovery and the team heads back to clean up and make dinner. Listening to Windle, it's evident the Brooks team is more like a family. A security, no doubt, that's helped facilitate his transition in moving out of Ashland. "Recovering from a hard session is tough to do alone, so we choose to do it together."

Pushing himself on the track isn't the only way Windle's training partners have inspired him to reach further. Seeing the way other Beasts like Nick and Katie Mackey have sought to get involved and give back to the running community, Windle has started to think about what kind of impact he can leave on the sport outside of medals, records, and times. "I do think it is really important, when the time is right, to become an ambassador for the sport and the running community. I have some great people to look up to in doing so."

"In the future, I can see myself setting up events for Special Olympics and/or Paralympic athletes," Windle speaks of the cause closest to his heart. "My high school actually has a Special Olympics program, and it is awesome to see how it has grown over the past few years. Working with special-needs kids is a big part of my family's life, so it would be cool and fun to incorporate that into my running."

As Windle headed into the Trials, he reflected back on what his thoughts were going into the season. Having set a goal to just make a smooth transition, Windle most certainly can excitedly share that he has far and away outgrown that goal. "As we got closer to the Trials I was able to aim a little higher. The men's 800m was looking more wide open than I think many people thought it would be even just a few months ago. I'm going to try to just enjoy my first Olympic Trials, try my best, and maybe something great could happen on July 4th."

Drew did his best in the Olympic Trials. It just did not go to his plans, or many others.

Drew won his first round at the Olympic Trials, winning in 1:48.66. His semi-final did not go as well, but it is those experiences that build a complete runner and competitor. Drew Windle's talents, his consistent training and his optimism will be a great part of the success of the Brooks Beasts in the future.

With the 2016 Olympic Trials now over, the refreshingly down to earth and quick with a sense of humor Windle is still young. Many World and Olympic Teams await before him, and making those are his long term goals. That, and consistency, "I have always been consistent, and now I just want to elevate my game and continue the habit of consistency."

Windle says going forward he just wants to remain in the conversation for top three spots in future Trials; well, he's close now and dare I say the conversation will always be more entertaining with his presence.

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Caitlin Chock (caitchock.com) set the then National High School 5k Record (15:52.88) in 2004 and previously ran for Nike. A freelance writer and artist, you can see more of her work on her website and Instagram @caitchock.

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