Men’s Track: Former Neuqua Valley star Chris Derrick staying on track
BY ROB WOLLENZIEN For Sun-Times Media July 14, 2012 6:10PM
Neuqua Valley graduate Chris Derrick (center) competed for Stanford in college, setting an American record in the 10,000 meters in April. | Photo by Tom Gee
Updated: November 30, 2012 10:40AM
The future looks bright for Chris Derrick.
That’s because the former Neuqua Valley cross country and track standout and recent Stanford graduate has only scratched the surface of his potential as a runner. Derrick, 21, narrowly missed qualifying for the Olympics in the 10,000 meters recently and set the American collegiate record in that same event back in April.
“I’m only 21, so most distance runners peak when they’re 28 or whatever, Derrick said recently by phone from California. “I’ve had good coaching and all that stuff, so I definitely feel like I have a lot more years in me.”
At the April 29 Payton Jordan Invitational, hosted by Stanford, Derrick finished third overall but posted the fastest time ever by an American collegiate runner when he ran the 10,000 meters in 27 minutes, 31.38 seconds. That time easily qualified him for the U.S. Olympic track and field trials in Eugene, Ore., on June 22, as the cutoff mark for the qualifying time was 27:45.00.
Only Canadian-born Cameron Levins of Southern Utah (27:27.96) and professional runner Sam Chelanga (27:29.82), a Kenya native, turned in faster times at the Payton Jordan Invitational.
For his efforts, Derrick was named the PAC-12 Track Athlete of the Week for April 23-29.
That day in April proved to be a culmination of everything Derrick had done to that point to excel as a runner. Prior to the Payton Jordan Invitational, Derrick’s best time in the 10K had been 28.26.65.
“Obviously, (it was) very satisfying because it was a new P.R. and that was an accomplishment in itself,” Derrick said. “It was good validation of some of the work we’d been putting in and the training we’d been doing, and a sign that we’re moving in the right direction.”
Near-miss at trials
Once at the Olympic trials, Derrick finished fourth overall in 27:40.23 in the 10,000 meters, needing to place in the top three in order to make the Olympic team. Galen Rupp was first in 27:25.33, Matt Tegenkamp placed second in 27:33.94 and Dathan Ritzenhein was third in 27:36.09.
Rupp’s time eclipsed Derrick’s April 29 10,000 meters time for the fastest pace in that event by an American this year.
Derrick also qualified for the June 28 Olympic trials in the 5,000 meters via his 13:19.58 time back in February. Ultimately, he decided not to participate in that event due to an ailment to his left plantar fascia. The 10,000 meters was considered his stronger event of the two.
Now, Derrick will add becoming a professional runner and, perhaps eventually an Olympian to his goals list. If that sounds daunting, consider that he emerged from the middle of the pack in terms of running talent and eventually rose to prominence by his senior year of high school. He came into high school as an average freshman runner but was nationally known by the time he left.
Derrick plans to run professionally out of either California or Oregon, but first he must secure a sponsorship — a detail that still needs to be hammered out. Down the road, he will likely have other chances to make the Olympics.
If his past performance is any indication of what success the future holds, he is in good standing.
Never losing focus
Derrick earned high marks from his high school coach, Paul Vandersteen.
“I think he’s a special runner because he does a lot of the little things well — that is nutrition, sleep, just thinking things through in terms of race strategy — (and) he’s very even-keel,” Vandersteen said. “He doesn’t get overanxious but yet he doesn’t blow things off. He’s the epitome of our philosophy that we always preach here at Neuqua, and that’s moderation and consistency.
“And he understands that you’re not going to be a champion overnight, as it takes time, and he’s willing to spend that time to be better. There are a lot of athletes out there that will dedicate themselves for a while but then they lose focus. Chris never seems to lose focus.”
Derrick exuded a presence in his high school days that Vandersteen said benefitted his teammates as well. In the fall of 2007, the Wildcats captured the team cross country title and Derrick won the individual race title. For his efforts, Derrick earned recognition as the inaugural winner of the 2007-08 Gatorade National Boys Cross Country Runner of the Year award.
“A lot of it was confidence,” Vandersteen said. “He instilled a confidence that I can’t describe. Our No. 2 guy that year, (senior Jimmy) Riddle, was the same way. Both (were) very, very confident athletes and I think that really helps.”
Derrick won the state title in ’07 by pacing the field with a 13:52 performance after finishing third in state the year before in 14:22. Neuqua Valley was ninth in the state in fall of ’06.
Running for fun turns serious
Parents Richard and Janet Derrick were just encouraged when their son wanted to run for fun as a freshman but could not have foreseen what was in the works in a soon-to-be-burgeoning athletic career. One instance illustrated both Derrick’s rising stardom and his humble and low-key, keep-things-hush-hush approach to his continued improvement.
“It’s a funny story but (Chris’) sophomore year,” Janet Derrick recalled, “he called me and I couldn’t make a race — it was like a dual meet, it was the first dual meet of the season—so I said, ‘Well, how’d you do?’ and he goes, ‘I won,’ and I said ‘Oh, you won the frosh-soph race?’ and he said ‘No, I ran varsity.’ ”
She credits Vandersteen with taking his enthusiastic young pupil under his wing and helping develop his raw talent. Vandersteen would offer Derrick books on running and the enthusiastic student would digest all the information and apply it to his own experiences. Derrick soon became a student of the sport and speed reader.
“He coaches the team but he coaches each individual student just to an amazing degree, and we made sure Chris ate and slept and did that, but Vandersteen was the one who really got him to embrace the true elements of running,” Janet Derrick said.
Her son agreed.
“Obviously, he’s been a huge influence on me,” Chris Derrick said. “I mean, I don’t think I’d be running if it weren’t for him.”
In pursuit of Olympic spot
Despite his tendency to downplay all accomplishments and their assigned significance, Derrick admits he would love to succeed as a professional runner and eventually qualify for the U.S. Olympic team.
“I think it would just be a nice validation of hard work and the great coaching I’ve had,” he said. “It’s not like there’s a larger meaning to it. I think that it’s just a goal that I have and I think it would be a cool thing to accomplish. I think that everyone who gets into this sport wants to see if they can get it and see what goals they can reach personally to reach a higher level.”
A long way off, or if he decides to pursue a different career path, Derrick has options. He has been recognized for his achievements in the classroom as well as on the track, earning student-athlete honors for his academics.
An economics major with an interest in law, his future could hold room for more schooling.
“I’ve thought about possibly going to law school and I guess that’s one thing that I’d maybe do,” Derrick said. “I hope that I have a long running career and that that’s a long way away but that’s something that I’m keeping open.”