When thinking about running, one word that rarely comes to mind for senior middle distance runner Chris Shaffer is “fun.” Running takes a toll on the body and the mind, and racing is as much of a mental endeavor as it is physical, he said.
But what made Shaffer’s running experience at GW most enjoyable is the team members behind him who supported each other and dedicated their college years to competitive running together.
Four years ago, the track and field program made its debut and a crop of 13 freshmen paved the way as the program’s first recruiting class.
This weekend, 10 of the 13 original members slowed down to walk in commencement ceremonies. The seven men and three women were the first to compete year-round for the team in cross country, and indoor and outdoor track and field for four years.
Members of the Class of 2018 hold 25 track and field program records – including nine new records this year – during their tenure on the team.
“We had the best year in program history, so it was really rewarding to be a part of that and see all the hard work we’ve put in as a team really pay off,” Shaffer said.
The team’s success this season took four years of early morning runs, grueling workouts and, for some like Shaffer, running 75 miles per week during the summer to get a strong endurance base for the year.
“It’s not a very fun thing to do, so when you’re out there every day putting in the work, sweating with these guys, you really do get to share a true bond that I think is unmatched with a lot of other sports,” Shaffer said.
Shaffer set the indoor track record in the one-mile run this season and is a member of the distance medley relay team that set a program record at the Atlantic 10 Indoor Track and Field Championship this year. He holds outdoor track program records in the 800-meter run and the 1,500-meter run, and is a member of the program record holding spring medley relay team and distance medley relay team.
While some athletes strive to run for a storied track and field program, the newness of GW’s program is what attracted the graduating runners four years ago.
“It was a really unique opportunity, and I think a lot of the other people in my class thought the same thing when we were recruited,” senior Miranda DiBiasio, who will return to the program next season as a graduate student after redshirting this year, said. “Just knowing we were going to be the first people to really start this program up and get to experience it for four full years.”
DiBiasio set the indoor track program record in the 5,000-meter run at the A-10 Championship in 2016-17 season. For outdoor track DiBiasio holds program records in the 5,000-meter run and 10,000-meter run.
When recruiting athletes for the program’s first year, head coach Terry Weir said he was looking for runners who were not only athletic, but had the character and attitude necessary to build a new running program.
“They were the very first ones to do it, and that’s the hardest because there was no one showing them the way,” Weir said. “This group had to figure this out on their own, so they’re the first ones to set the tone from here on out, and I’m really proud of them for that.”
Weir said most of the athletes in the recruiting class were passed over by other running programs before finding GW. Shaffer was recruited late to GW after an injury during his junior year of high school sidelined him until the middle of his senior year. DiBiasio said the team’s coaching staff is the best she’s ever had after coming from a “not-so-great” high school program.
In the same way the runners took a chance on GW’s new program, runners said Weir took a chance on them.
“I didn’t have the best times in high school and Coach Weir gave me the opportunity to run,” senior distance runner Noah Duell said. “He put investment in me when other teams or other coaches weren’t necessarily willing to do so – so for that, I’m really grateful.”
Earlier this month, senior Carter Day, along with graduate student Matt Lange, became the first runners in program history to qualify for the NCAA East Preliminary Competition in the 3,000-meter steeplechase. Day holds individual program records in the 3,000-meter steeplechase and 5,000-meter run, and is a part of the record-holding 4xMile relay team for outdoor track. In indoor track and field Day holds the program record in the 800-meter run, 1,000-meter run, 3,000-meter run and is a member of the record-holding 4×800 relay team.
For the athletes, a slew of memories from the last four years – ranging from workouts at the polo fields at West Potomac Park to breaking personal records – stood out to them.
“I can’t ever forget that experience,” Duell said about breaking the 15-minute barrier in the 5K race at George Mason last season.
But each runner said they would miss running with their “best friends” as the team has become more like a family.
“I come from a big family so they, in many ways, replaced my family that I had left behind in upstate New York,” Duell said. “It became a brotherhood.”
While the track and field program has grown “exponentially” since the team’s seniors first joined the program, runners said they want to see even more growth and success in the future, including an expanded sprinting program and a deeper roster overall.
Senior sprinter Joseph Verghese – who holds records in the 60-meter hurdles and 4x200m relay team for indoor track and field, and set records in the 100-meter dash, 110-meter hurdles and 400-meter hurdles for outdoor track – joined the team as a walk-on his freshman year as the only male sprinter in the program. Since then, the team has gained two more sprinters.
“It was very lonely essentially for my first two years being the only guy sprinter and doing the workouts on my own,” Verghese said. “But having other teammates as well in the workouts, they help push me as well. They made me better overall.”
For Weir, watching the team he recruited four years ago succeed on the track and start a winning culture for the program has made saying goodbye this year hard.
“They get to this point and they’re running really well, I wish I could spend another four years with them,” Weir said. “A lot of them are just starting to take off now running-wise.”