Dillon Strives for a Healthy and Successful Senior Season
Sept. 14, 2011
By Becky Hart, Bucknell Athletic Communications
In the movie Rudy, the beloved Notre Dame football player lives his dream, leading the Irish onto the field before a game. It's the type of experience that few athletes will ever be lucky enough to have. Bucknell distance runner Dan Dillon will probably never have a movie made about him, but he still knows a little something about being an unlikely choice to lead the huddle.
"My first cross country race in college was last year as a junior midway through the season at Lehigh at the Paul Short (Memorial Invitational)," recalls Dillon. "Coach (Kevin) Donner actually let me lead the huddle before the race, so that was really exciting."
How did Dillon make it almost three years without having ever raced? While most freshmen were working through firsts such as the first time having to do their own laundry, Dillon was dealing with the first injury of his running career. As a rookie, he quickly found out what it was like to sit on the sidelines and watch his team compete without him. The summer before his freshman campaign, Dillon was diagnosed with stress fractures in his left mid-foot and fibula that ended his cross country season before it even began. His eagerness to get back in action also led to his downfall during the track season.
"I wasn't able to compete that year in cross country because it took a little bit longer to heal than I thought it would. I wasn't really smart coming back. I tried to do too much at once, and I actually got injured again," says Dillon. "I hurt my groin. That I what really hurt me freshman year, groin problems. I ended up pulling both groins throughout track season several times."
Dillon raced just three times as a freshman, all during the indoor track season.
A new year brought new hope, but Dillon's sophomore season would also be lost to injury. This time it was tendinitis in his foot that held him out for six weeks in the fall. In an extra blow, the Edinboro, Pa., native was cut from the cross country and indoor track teams. Instead of using his injuries as an excuse, however, Dillon used his pink slip to showcase his never-say-die attitude and kept running.
"That was the year we did Stucco Running Club. It was all the distance guys that were cut that still wanted to come to practice and work every day," Dillon explains. "I was working back, and I ran a 5K at the end of February. It wasn't a great race. It wasn't really a good time, but it was the best time I'd run so far in college because I'd never been in shape. I was always injured."
Dillon refused to quit, but his shins had other plans. In his efforts to salvage his sophomore year by making the outdoor squad, he ignored the pain in his legs and continued to train.
"That ended up being a bad idea because that was a stress fracture in my tibia. That kept me out for four months."
Dillon never raced for the Bison as a sophomore.
With half his career gone and only three races on his resume, it should have been easy for Dillon to walk away from the sport. Two things kept him coming back for more.
"One, the team. We have a really close-knit team here. Just watching them race and watching them compete and work out was big for me, especially the upperclassmen when I was a younger classmen," he says. "I'd finish up in the pool, and I'd see our captains. Andrew Huebner, Kevin McGoldrick and Conor McNamara would be there, all those guys that were seniors when I was a sophomore. I would see them going out for a morning run when I came in from the pool. That was always a constant reminder. `This is why you're here. This is going to be you two years from now. You're going to be leading the team. You're going to be in their position.'
"And on a personal level, I can't imagine not running," Dillon continues. "It's just part of who I am."
Throughout his Bucknell career, Dillon has probably spent more time in the pool at Kinney Natatorium than on the track at Christy Mathewson-Memorial Stadium, working out on his own instead of running with his teammates. He has a love/hate relationship with the pool, admitting that although training in the water isn't tons of fun, he probably wouldn't still be running if it weren't for the facility.
"There's nothing like watching your teammates run by at the end of a run. There's that glass wall there by the pool. Oh, man," Dillon remembers with a bit of anguish. "The pool and the bike, too. The bike's facing outside too, so if you're cross training, you're guaranteed to see the team finishing their run in front of the fieldhouse. If you don't want to get back already, which you do, that sight is just ... oh, man. It just puts you over the top."
Now a senior, Dillon is taking advantage of his opportunities. His first major cross country race came last fall where he finished in the top half of the field at Lehigh. He competed four times before ailments struck again. This time it was low iron and a digestive disorder that tried to put him down for the count on the track.
"I actually had slower times indoor as a junior than I did as a freshman because of my low iron," Dillon says. "I could barely run. That might have been the most angry I was. Not just frustrated, but angry. I knew that I was getting back up to the point where I should be. Injuries are really visible, but when stuff's going on like low iron, you don't want to make excuses, but you just want people to know that this isn't me. I know I'm better than this."
Dillon finally "got it together" for the outdoor track season and posted the best, and healthiest, stretch of his career as the Bison claimed their second consecutive Patriot League title. Now in his final year with the Orange and Blue, his goals center around bringing home more championship trophies. He'll return to Lehigh, the site of his first career cross country race, for the 2011 Patriot League Championship on Oct. 29. With any luck and another stretch of good health, Dillon will finally be able to realize the goal he made four years ago.
"I wanted to be the number one guy on the team my senior year," he recalls. "I came in with my roommate, Dave Brown, and I told him `We could be the top guys on this team in a couple of years.' It was one of the first conversations we ever had, and now we're the only two seniors left and we're both captains. We're in a position to do that."
While Dillon will never have that movie made about him and he probably won't have fans chanting his name as his teammates carry him off on their shoulders, he knows just the same that his fellow Bucknellians are supporting him. He wants nothing more than to make them proud.
"There's definitely a huge support base for our cross country team with alumni," he acknowledges. "I know they watch us every race, and we're trying to represent the team well. Bucknell's a running school, and we're here to bring that back."
Note: This story appeared in a recent edition of the Bucknell Football Gameday Program.