For many, Memorial Day weekend is the unofficial start of summer. But for John Decker ’18, alumnus of the men’s track and field and cross-country teams, the weekend will always mark his arrival on the national stage.
The most decorated athlete in program history, Decker twice qualified for the NCAA National Championships in track and field held during Memorial Day weekend. In 2017, he won his heat and shattered his 800-meter record in the preliminaries and then came in fourth in the finals to become the Beavers’ first All-American.
Decker’s path to the top wasn’t always easy, despite early successes. As a first-year, he won the NEWMAC 800-meter championship and went on to earn all-region honors. After these accolades, Decker knew he had the potential to compete at a national level. “However, such races are the culmination of years of training,” he says, and that’s where the tough work takes place.
“John committed to the process,” says head coach Russ Brennen. “Everyone works hard in practice no matter what level they are, so it really comes down to what you’re doing in the 22 hours outside of practice, and he really committed to paying attention to all the details.”
For Decker, that meant embracing a shift in mindset, which he achieved with help from Brennen and training partner Matt Dynan ’19. “To fully understand what it takes to be successful in middle-distance and distance track events means understanding that cross-country and track are two sides of the same coin,” Decker says. His main competitors at track nationals also were training hard in cross-country, notes Decker, so he had to increase his training as well.
“John needed to believe he could do it,” says Brennen. The results speak for themselves as Decker, who placed 81st at the cross-country league meet as a first-year, improved to 22nd at the 2016 NEWMAC Championships and earned all-conference honors after coming in 12th as a senior in 2017.
Decker was even better on the track, winning two NEWMAC titles and becoming the program’s first NCAA New England champion as a junior before repeating in the 800 meters to claim his fifth conference title as a senior. In total, he claimed seven all-conference and 11 all-region honors, and he holds school records in the 800-meter run and as a member of the 4×400-meter and 4×800-meter relay teams.—Jeremy Viens, athletics communications director