COLUMBIA — If asked to describe himself, Dan Hedgecock might say that he’s a juggler, a piano player or an honors student at MU.
He might add that he likes to run, or that he is a member of the cross country team at Missouri, but Hedgecock prefers a more laid-back approach to athletics that allows him to avoid all of the “head games” that cause most cross country runners trouble.
Hedgecock came to MU after a successful high school career, but found the collegiate workouts were focused on preparing athletes for longer races than he was used to running. He and Missouri coach Jared Wilmes agreed he would redshirt that season to give him another year to prepare his body for training at such a high level.
“Honestly, back in high school, I thought of myself as more of a short distance guy,” Hedgecock said. “But when I got here, Coach Wilmes told me that he saw me as more of a 5K or 10K guy.”
Two years after his redshirt season, Hedgecock has been the top finisher for the Tigers in all but one race and was the only Tiger to place high enough at the NCAA Midwest Regional Championships to earn one of the 38 at-large bids to the NCAA National Championships on Saturday.
Hedgecock and Wilmes both attribute the improvement to the rare attitude Hedgecock takes toward his running.
“Running is a sport where people are unbelievably obsessed with what they do, and it’s kind of crazy,” Hedgecock said. “I’ve never really wanted to be like that, I’ve always been much more laid back about it.”
Wilmes has noticed the more relaxed attitude.
“He doesn’t get uptight about things, he just lets it flow,” Wilmes said. “I think as a distance runner that’s something you have to have, because there will be ups and downs, it’s going to happen.”
Hedgecock says that the relaxed attitude keeps him from getting stressed out before big races and lets him stay away from the worries that result from the pressure a lot of other runners will put on themselves to prepare for races.
“They psyche themselves out for races, where if they have one thing go wrong they think their whole season’s ruined,” Hedgecock said. “A lot of times, running is real intense, you have a lot of pain to work through. If that’s all you think about, it can get old really fast and you’ll get burned out.”
Hedgecock has been through some tests this season. Following an individual title at the Bradley Classic, he placed 18th at the Big 12 Championships, missing All-Big 12 honors by three places. Despite the disappointing finish, Hedgecock drew on the race for inspiration at the regional race the following weekend.
“Bradley was a really good race, and the Big 12’s was a fairly mediocre race for me,” Hedgecock said. “But I was still 18th its nice to know that on a day that I don’t run really well, I can still be 18th.”
Wilmes has been impressed by Hedgecock’s success.
“I think it’s really a credit to Dan that he’s been able to continue to battle and not get distracted by all of the little things that happen,” said Wilmes. “And that’s his attitude, he is really into what he does. You can definitely tell by how invested he is in his running. He definitely wants to be great.”
Aside from bringing him success on the cross country course, Hedgecock’s attitude has led him to focus more on other aspects of his life outside of athletics. He is involved in schoolwork, works at a local running store, and finds time to pursue what he calls his “goofy hobbies.”
“I just kind of pick up little things. In high school, I learned how to juggle. This year, my roommate taught me how to play the piano. I’m taking German, and it’s kind of fun to learn another language,” Hedgecock said. “Little things like that are just fun to do. They seem kind of silly, but if you don’t take yourself too seriously, they’re fun.”
Wilmes says that the little things like Hedgecock’s hobbies are what allows the team to grow together and bond. In addition to making the team stronger, it prepares the athletes for success after college when “life isn’t just about running.”
“He doesn’t identify himself as being just a runner. I think in that way, maybe he’s just goofy because his whole life isn’t about running,” Wilmes said. “He sees himself as a complete person, and I think that’s what you hope and strive for.”
This will be Hedgecock’s first year competing at the NCAA Championships. He says the difference between this race and others he has run this year is that he won’t have to worry about a low place affecting the team’s performance, and he can experiment with a more aggressive style of racing.
“This is the only race I’ve had all season where I don’t have a team,” Hedgecock said. “It’ll be a little bit of a reckless approach without having to place well for the team.”