From Dragon to Duck
Feb 23, 2017 09:44AM
● By Ashley Pape
Reed Brown has become a household name.
Not only has the senior cross country star had a stellar run during his time at Southlake Carroll, he has set the entire nation abuzz. In December, Brown won the 38th Annual Foot Locker Cross Country Championships, the longest-running cross country race in the nation for high school students.
With this victory, which Brown called “a shocking experience,” he became the first Texas boy in more than 30 years to win the race. He finished the 3.1-mile course in 15:01.8, 2.6 seconds ahead of the second-place finisher.
Just a week prior to the championship, Brown finished sixth at Nike Cross Nationals, the invitational cross country meet considered to be the unofficial national championship of United States high school cross country teams.
And in May 2016, Brown crushed Texas’ 29-year-old record in the 3,200-meter run at the UIL state track meet, winning the Class 6A race in 8:50.43. Brown’s time shattered the previous record of 8:52.34 set in 1987.
So what drives this relentless runner to keep pushing forward? It’s not the limelight, medals or desire to outrun competitors; Brown simply wants to maximize his talents. To him, hitting his potential is the greatest accomplishment.
“My definition of success is getting the most out of every workout, run and race,” Brown says. “And not just running, but in life—getting good grades and being nice to people. There’s a life outside of running.”
Brown’s coaches attest to his intrinsic motivation to be his best. “Reed has a strong work ethic and realizes the importance of hard work in order to attain his goals,” says Justin Leonard, head cross country coach for Southlake Carroll. “We coaches admire his work ethic; he simply gets it done without complaining. He leads by example.”
Robert Johnson, head track and field and cross country coach for the University of Oregon, where Brown will run in the fall, agrees. “An athlete like Reed does not come around often. He is special,” Coach Johnson says. Johnson knows talent—he has guided 28 individual athletes to victories at the NCAA Championships while leading Oregon to eleven national championships in just five years at the program’s helm.
THE PATH TO GREATNESS
Growing up in a family of athletes (brother Kris is a former NFL player and brother Drew plays football at Nebraska), Brown naturally felt compelled to flex his athletic muscles. He played baseball, basketball, soccer and football, but nothing really stuck until he started cross country in seventh grade. By his freshman year, Brown knew he’d found his niche.
“I didn’t want to be the oddball in the family, so I tried almost every sport,” he says. “I ended up going with what I liked the most. I also felt like I was the best at cross country and track.”
So Brown decided he would hit the pavement—and give it all he’s got. It didn’t take long for his coaches to realize his talent.
“Two things set Reed apart from others. First, he has confidence in his abilities. Reed expects to perform at a high level and will work in order to get the most out of himself,” Coach Leonard says. “Second, Reed has a natural ability in running and will push himself in order to maximize his gift.”
When he’s powering through a grueling race, Brown doesn’t think about the other athletes, the finish line or even the race itself. Instead, he relaxes and focuses on his training, trusting that it’s been good enough to get him through the present moment.
For him, flexibility of body and mind is key to performing at his best. Rather than have a strategy right from the start of a race, Brown remains fluid as the race plays out and forms a strategy as he’s running. “So many different things can happen throughout the race,” he explains. “I relax my body and mind and trust in my training.”
For Brown and the other Carroll runners, training during the cross country season involves both interval work and speed work. In the offseason, they work on tempos and long runs. Like any athlete, Brown has good days and bad days. But even when he doesn’t have a great run or he loses a race he shouldn’t have lost, he is committed to always giving his best. He credits his coach for instilling this work ethic in him.
“Having Coach Leonard as a mentor has helped me substantially,” Brown says. “He wants to get the best out of everyone.
He gives us the tools and knowledge to be successful and, from that point on, it’s up to the runner.”
Brown recalls one lesson from his coach that particularly resonated with him.
“Coach Leonard would always say, ‘Hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard.’ That stuck in my mind,” says Brown. “You control your own destiny.”
TAKING FLIGHT AS A DUCK
Brown took this wisdom and used it to not only propel ahead at races, but to build the foundation for his collegiate running career. As he prepares to head to the University of Oregon this fall, Brown is joining one of the most elite and storied running programs in the country. Not only has the program accrued dozens of NCAA national titles in its 122-year history, it has put Eugene, Oregon, on the map as TrackTown, USA.
Some alumni of the Ducks running program have gone on to compete in the Olympics while others have built distinguished coaching careers. One of the most notable alumni of the running program, however, is Phil Knight, the legendary co-founder of Nike.
Knight graduated from the University of Oregon in 1959, but his school spirit still runs strong. Last year, the man behind the swoosh committed to donating $500 million to his alma mater, making it the largest donation to a public flagship university in the nation’s history. Knight is also a best-selling author. His memoir, “Shoe Dog,” tells the captivating tale of the beginning and evolution of one of the world’s most iconic brands, and the significance of Knight’s running background with the University of Oregon.
Southlake might have its own “shoe dog” with Brown. When it comes to joining one of the nation’s most renowned running programs, Brown says he is both “a little exited and scared about the new level of competition.” But, like the elite runner he is, he is ready to go all in.
Considering the legacy that Brown leaves at Carroll, Coach Leonard has every confidence he will succeed. “Reed has made a huge impact on our program and has left a lasting impression on others,” he says. “Reed has made it possible for others to see what can be done through hard work and determination, and now they have something to shoot for as well.”
Coach Johnson adds, “Our distance coach, Andy Powell, did an incredible job during the recruiting process getting to know Reed and his family. We know that he is the right kid for our program—and not only from an athletic perspective. He is an all-around great kid.”
As Brown’s Dragon dynasty comes to a close, he’s poised to join a new dynasty with the Ducks. And no matter what the future holds at the University of Oregon, Brown will always have his hometown Dragons cheering him on.
“It’s been a great ride with all the guys and girls and Coach Leonard,” Brown says. “It’s been something really special that I won’t forget.”