Philip Shippy — Staff Writer
Joe Anderson runs through a field, several other men around him. His coach would later describe him with two words: “metronome” and “machine.” Every so often, Anderson looks over his shoulder as a tic. There are a lot of emotions going through his head as he runs. He has been running cross country for around ten years now, and this is his final college race.
He crosses the finish line and watches his teammates stream in behind him, many only ten seconds behind him. Anderson can see his parents waving him over from behind the fence that separates the runners from the spectators. He can see his coach crying. He cannot see the scoreboard since it’s facing the audience. The team jumps the fence, and the scoreboard confirms Anderson’s hope.
Dordt University has won the NAIA Cross Country Championships in Florida, and Anderson, as the first Defender runner to cross the finish line, has led his team to victory. He feels satisfaction and relief wash over him.
“There’s just so much weighing on you,” Anderson said. “The whole summer season leads up to that moment.”
Anderson’s journey to his championship finish started in seventh grade when he started running for the George-Little Rock Mustangs. He ran with them through middle and high school and regularly placed in the top five.
A large challenge to his running early on was the time commitment.
“It’s year-round,” Anderson said. “You get two weeks off a year and the rest is straight running 70 to 100 miles a week. So, it takes a lot of sacrifice.”
Anderson knew that social or fun activities would have to take a backseat if he wanted to be a great runner.
“That was an obstacle at first … and I’m glad I made the decision (to focus on running),” Anderson said.
He was an excellent runner when he graduated from high school, and he only got better after he joined the Defenders.
Much of this is due to his work ethic.
“If you would ask Joe about doing a run in the middle of the summer, Joe’s comment would be, ‘Well, there’s no option to not do it.’ He sees running and the work he puts in as part of a lifestyle,” Head Cross Country and Assistant Track Coach Nate Wolf said.
With this attitude, Anderson threw himself into improving his running.
One improvement was his ability to stay focused throughout a race, according to his coach.
“He raced at a high level in high school, but he really relied, in my opinion, a lot on his kick. He would just out-kick people,” Wolf said. “At the college level, especially in the 8,000 meter race, you really have to learn how to pour your energy out over the course of the full 8,000 meters. [Understanding this now] allows him to still use his kick, but he’s in a much better place when it’s time to use it.”
However, Anderson’s growth wasn’t without challenges. As an engineering student, he would have to work hard at his academics. Add to this mix a girlfriend who studied at a different college (who would later become his wife), and Anderson began to look like a circus performer spinning plates on skinny poles.
It was hard, but Anderson somehow kept his plates from crashing to the floor. He recently ended his cross-country career with a 13th place finish at the national championship.
While his place in the race certainly helped the team to win, he also helped in far greater ways.
“I think there’s a lot of people who contribute to a championship, even beyond our team, but Joe has the ability to make people feel valued; he has the ability to connect with people and to connect people with each other; and I think that’s really valuable,” Wolf said. “[Joe] provides the ligaments and the tendons for our team. He’s what holds our team together in so many ways.”
Through Anderson’s perspective, his greatest achievement outside of the championship was building a team.
“I’m proud of the way I’ve helped Coach bring in new recruits,” Anderson said. “I just want to promote Dordt Cross Country in the future after I’m gone, and I hope that’s my legacy.”