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Steeplechasing Spans Generations on a Small College Campus

I spotted the news on the website of my alma mater: Carleton College. Dan Bucy, a sophomore from Sioux Falls, SD, placed sixth in the 3000 meter steeplechase at the NCAA Division III championships. Dan’s school record time of 9:09.50 won’t scare the Kenyans, who usually dominate that event, but it’s a minute faster than I ran a half century earlier at another NCAA Championships, placing ninth.

In my defense, that meet was the first time I had even seen much less tried to clear a water jump. Back then, Carleton didn’t have steeplechase barriers. I trained using high school high hurdles three inches higher. But competition was easier then. Few other Americans knew how to run the ‘chase either, even though Horace Ashenfelter won a gold medal at the 1952 Olympics. Despite two-footing every water jump landing, I missed qualifying for the Olympic Trials by only four seconds. I eventually would improve my time, though my Olympic dream proved elusive.

Coincidentally, Dan’s Uncle Greg lives in my home town of Michigan City, Indiana. Greg Bucy went to high school about the same time as my three children. He was a high-scoring point guard. My son David played basketball with Greg through 10th grade before shifting to tennis. Several days after I learned about Dan Bucy’s achievement, his grandmother stopped by my house. She planned to visit Carleton for Dan’s older brother’s graduation and wanted to bring Dan one of my autographed running posters. (Don’t anybody tell him.)

Fond Memories

I expect to visit Carleton myself in a few weeks for my college class’s 50th reunion. I’ve visited the campus frequently since my graduation in 1953 and serve on the planning committee for that reunion. Among events scheduled for reunion weekend is a 5-K run/walk through the Carleton Arboretum. I have fond memories of The Arb, where I ran cross-country a half century ago. Joining me in the 5-K will be Rob Oden, the college’s new president, another runner. President Oden recently told me his first day in Northfield he ran 16 miles. “I got lost,” he sheepishly confessed.

Dan probably will have left campus by the time I arrive in Northfield, Minnesota. I’ve never met him. While on campus, I certainly plan a nostalgic trip to the Carleton stadium, site of my collegiate races, some of them won, some of them not. The current track is smooth and rubberized, not the rough cinders on which I trained. Carleton now has a steeplechase water pit and barriers the correct size. If I had such a track and equipment and were I armed with the training knowledge I now possess, would I have improved on my modest collegiate accomplishments? I’m not sure I want to contemplate that question. We do the best we can during the time we are given.

Following his grandmother’s visit, I checked the college online directory and found Dan Bucy’s email address. (That was something unavailable at the time of my graduation a half century ago!) I emailed him congratulations for his accomplishment in my old event. I challenged him to get his ‘chase time under 9:00 during his final two years at Carleton, maybe win an NCAA title, but couldn’t resist adding: “Your goal should not be fast times, but rather still to be running at your 50th reunion.”

Hal Higdon, Senior Writer for Runner's World, still holds the American M40 and M45 records for the 3000 meter steeplechase, set during the 1970s. He wrote a nostalgic article about running in the 1952 Olympic Trials in an article published by Sports Illustrated. Click on the following link to access it: A Time of Wonder, Joy and Glory for Losers .