By DIANE GASPER-O’BRIEN
FHSU University Relations and Marketing
He won a national championship the final race of his standout collegiate career. Now, Brett Meyer is inspiring other Fort Hays State University runners to set their bars high while still pursuing some lofty goals of his own.
After claiming the NCAA Division II national championship in the 1,500-meter run at last spring’s track and field season finale, Meyer joined the FHSU cross country and track coaching staff as a graduate assistant this fall.
In between, he ran a sub-4-minute mile for the second straight summer while chasing a dream of qualifying for the 2020 Olympic Trials in the 1,500.
And he is close to meeting that goal. Meyer’s mile times convert to 3 minutes, 39 seconds in the 1,500. The qualifying standard for the Trials is 3:37.
Meanwhile, heading into the Tigers’ annual home cross country meet Saturday, both the men’s and women’s teams are undefeated this fall.
That is no coincidence, says Tessa Durnell, one of the leading runners for the Tiger women’s team.
“Brett has done a really good job of helping every runner set expectations for themselves,” said Durnell, a senior from Harwood, Mo. “It’s pretty cool to have a national champion coaching us. Not every athlete gets to have that resource, that experience.”
After watching Meyer compete as an All-American athlete for three years – he earned that honor six times – Durnell is just as impressed with his coaching style.
“I think he might be a better coach than athlete,” Durnell said. “I know that’s a pretty bold statement, because he’s a national champion. But watching him as a coach for just a few months, he is really inspirational, wants everyone to get the most out of their ability that they can.”
One Tiger runner who has been watching Meyer’s progress from afar for several years is Trever Medina, a freshman from Weskan.
During his high school days at Sharon Springs High School, Medina set his sights on becoming another successful western Kansas runner. Meyer is from Scott City, about an hour from Sharon Springs.
That inspiration, along with a reputable radiology program, drew Medina to Fort Hays State, and ultimately alongside his idol.
“I’ve looked up to him a long time,” Medina said. “I thought, ‘I want that to be me someday.’ He wins a national championship, and now, he’s coaching us and he’s practicing for himself at the same time. We learn a lot just by being around him, seeing his work ethic.”
FHSU head coach Jason McCullough said he thinks it’s good for his athletes to be surrounded by people who have been successful.
“It makes the athletes realize people (like Meyer) are normal people,” McCullough said, “and that they can accomplish big things, too.”
After graduating from FHSU with his bachelor’s in health and human performance last spring, Meyer chose to work on his master’s in sports administration and serve as a graduate assistant for the Tiger runners this year. That allows him to train while working on his degree.
One might think a standout middle distance runner who ran sub-4-minute miles twice this summer and is training for the 2020 Trials might choose a more predictable climate in which to train.
For starters, he is a loyal sort. Fort Hays State is one of the few colleges to offer him a scholarship out of high school, even after winning the 800 meters at the state track meet and anchoring two state championship relays.
Plus, if his goal of running professionally doesn’t pan out, Meyer will be halfway through his master’s program. He has aspirations of coaching at the college level someday.
Meyer became a collegiate runner himself when he decided to follow his high school sweetheart to Fort Hays State. Kelly Wycoff was a standout sprinter for the Tigers and went on to earn All-America status, too.
They married this summer, and Kelly also is working on her master’s. She is a graduate assistant for the Tiger track and field team.
The Tiger teams and their head coach are supporting Meyer, who McCullough said he thought early on could be a sub-4-minute miler.
Meyer had mostly run the 400 and 800 in high school and wasn’t so sure about the longer distance.
“I knew he could if he believed in it and trained for it, he could do it,” McCullough said. “I tried to put it in his head early.”
Now, Meyer watches as another freshman has similar interests.
Medina might be willing to increase his mileage, just as a certain national champion did three years ago.
“In Trevor, I see a lot of myself,” Meyer said. “I peaked my senior year of high school, and so did he. As coaches, that’s our job to talk to them and make them see that they can get out of their comfort zone.”
And when Meyer talks, the Tigers listen.
“He tells us what we’ve doing wrong and how we can improve,” Medina said. “He tells us how to run smarter, how to eat, a lot of things. Based on his experience, if anyone knows what should be done, he does.”
The Tigers will get to see some strong competition Saturday. The 36-team team field includes Colorado School of Mines, whose men are ranked first in NCAA D-II, and its women’s team is ranked third. The meet is set for 9 a.m. at Sand Plum Nature Trail just outside Victoria, known as one of the finest cross country courses in the Midwest.
“That type of competition is rare around here, and it always motivates us to work harder and allows us to grow and get better for our conference and regional meets,” Meyer said. “It’s also nice to see that those powerhouse Colorado schools are made up of normal people, just like us.”
Cutline: Fort Hays State University’s Brett Meyer, center back, national champion in the 1,500 meters last spring, is a graduate assistant coach for the Tiger cross country team this fall.