By Jeanna Packard
Stories in this student-led and -written Outlook series highlight the distinctive summer internships and work experiences of students from across the academic spectrum.
When Craig Leon walked onto the Ohio University men's cross country team in 2003, the Olympics weren't even on his radar. But a recent summer internship at the Olympic trials reignited his passion for the sport and fueled Leon's current ambitions -- a run at the Olympics and a career in athletics.
Leon, who is pursuing a master's degree in athletic administration in the College of Health and Human Services, filmed athletic performances at the U.S. Track and Field Olympic trials June 26 through July 5 in Eugene, Ore., for Human Performance Consulting. Ohio University alumnus Mike Young founded the agency, which evaluates top athletes' performances and develops training strategies to enhance their abilities.
Leon, who earned a degree in education from Ohio University in 2007, responded to an offer to work at the trials during one of his coaching education classes last spring.
"I've always joked that I wanted to race out there, and then this opportunity came up," Leon said. "I really didn't know what I was going to do over the summer, and it turned into one of the best summers of my life."
A former standout on Ohio University's track and field and cross country teams, Leon had a front-row seat for the performances of Olympic hopefuls at the trials.
Leon witnessed Tyson Gay run the fastest 100-meter dash to date -- although his record-breaking time didn't qualify as a world record because of wind interference. He also watched thousands of fans cheer on three Oregon runners who swept the 800-meter run, earning all three Olympic team spots.
"For somebody who cares about running, this was a chance of a lifetime," said Clay Calkins, Ohio University's head track and field coach. "(For) people who love the sport, this is what they live for."
Leon said he and 12 to 15 of his co-workers filmed the track meet from designated stations, including the infield and press box. Stations were positioned all around the track to capture different angles.
The films, which are uploaded to a computer and slowed to single frames, are viewed and critiqued by the athletes and coaches and used as a tool to help athletes improve their performance.
When not filming, Leon explored the many wood chip trails in Eugene, also known as "Track Town" because of its history of dominance in the sport and notoriety of a former runner who created Nike, Leon said. While there, he competed in the Butte to Butte 10K on the Fourth of July, placing third and bringing home $200.
During one of his many distance runs, Leon encountered Dathan Ritzenhein, an Olympic marathoner. They ran a few miles together, sharing running tips and advice.
The inspiration Leon absorbed in Eugene followed him back to Athens and continues to motivate his running. He has even developed a four-year plan to qualify for the 2012 Olympic marathon pretrials.
Calkins said Leon was the team's top runner his junior and senior years after walking on as a freshman. "(Coaches) strive to get young athletes like Craig, and we hope they achieve everything he achieved. He is a model athlete and student."
Leon's running earned him an athletic scholarship his sophomore year, and his hard work and dedication qualified him for the 2007 Cross Country Championships at Terre Haute, Ind.
Leon's former supervisor in the College of Education, Kelly Davidson, recalls early morning meetings for which Leon, a Precollege adviser at the time, would arrive at 8 a.m. and dance around the room. Incoming students appreciated his easygoing nature.
"Craig is focused, an outstanding student and all-around person," Davidson said. "The key to his success is his ability to balance athletics, academics and fun."
Leon, originally of Van Wert, Ohio, plans on working in an athletic environment after graduation, but time and job prospects will determine the specifics.
"Goal setting and achievement in running correlate to the rest of my life," he said. "I have good time management skills and motivation. Having success in running is the same as job success. I want to achieve goals."
For more on Leon's adventure in Eugene, visit his blog.
Updated Oct. 28, 2008, to include Leon's hometown.
Introduction updated Sept. 19, 2008.