If you have gone through elementary school or high school, chances are you have run cross-country in some way, shape or form, but that does not mean you have the capability to compete at the university level.
That is what Jeff Tweedle, fifth-year civil engineering student and cross-country star, used to think before he took a try at running. Growing up, Tweedle played volleyball throughout high school and loved it, but he also knew that his chances to play at the next level were slim.
It was not until the end of grade 11 that the Cardinal Newman Secondary School student was introduced to local track coach Patti Moore of the Hamilton Olympic Club. He started training with the club more seriously shortly after, and did so throughout the twelfth grade.
“I didn’t have that much of an intention of running when I came to Mac,” said Tweedle. “My track times were okay, but compared to the guys they recruit now I was really slow.”
In his first year, Tweedle struggled with adjusting and balancing to life as a student-athlete and had the worst year of his career. Over the summer after his first year, he had the opportunity to train with head coach Paula Schnurr and from there has seen nothing but constant improvement.
Tweedle believes that they took a chance on him, and that chance has been paying off ever since. The fifth-year runner is the McMaster record holder in the 1,000 metre (2:22:58), 1,500 metre (3:45:80) and mile (4:02.05) distances.
“It was just something that neither of us expected to happen and it was just such a big breakthrough for me,” said Tweedle on his 1,000 metre McMaster record he made two years ago at the Boston University Valentine Invitational.
At the time, Tweedle was suffering from Achilles issues and was not where he wanted to be going into Boston. So winning his heat, finishing third overall and breaking both Mac’s record and his personal best came as a huge surprise.
“I was just in shock,” said Tweedle. “I stepped off the track and looked for my coach Paula and we just hugged it out.”
Over the years, Tweedle has had many good surprises on the track, but he’s had bad ones too — as any athlete does. After having a solid start to the 2017 season, Tweedle was in contention to win at the Ontario University Athletics Cross-Country Championships on Oct. 28. Unfortunately, he ended up falling at the five kilometre mark, which set him back from the lead group.
“I had to do a lot more work to close that gap and collect myself after falling,” said Tweedle. “It hurt me a bit physically, but it was more just the mental shock of hitting the ground, rolling around and trying to pop back up to finish the race.”
Tweedle ended up coming in fifth with a time of 30:46.4, helping the Marauders men’s team place second overall. Sergio Raez Villanueva, Marauder newcomer and sophomore, placed second overall with 30:37.3. First-year Max Turek took home the individual bronze and OUA rookie of the year honours with a time of 30:39.5.
“When I was coming in with 100 metres left and I could see Sergio and Max crossing the line I was just so happy for them,” said Tweedle. “It’s crazy to see these guys early on in their Mac careers doing so well. I may be heading out and it may be the end for me, but to see what these guys are accomplishing is insane.”
The McMaster women’s team also came in at a solid fourth place thanks to Melissa Caruso, who individually placed at 11th with a time of 28:40.7 and Emily Nowak who came in 14th place with 28:57.1.
Both women were named OUA second-team all-stars, while Tweedle, Turek and Raez Villanueva were named OUA first-team all-stars.
As his university career comes to a close at the end of the fall semester, Tweedle hopes that it is not the end of his running career.
“I’m not too sure what I want to do after I graduate,” said Tweedle. “I’m leaving it pretty open so over the next year I can take a crack at running and see how far I can take it.”
Working out a deal with bigger track clubs or a running shoe and apparel sponsor would be the next step for Tweedle to become a professional runner. Although once he hangs up his cleats, Tweedle hopes to work in municipal engineering.
But for now, he still has one more race to try to win as a Marauder. His sights are set on the U Sports championships, where both the men’s and women’s teams will be competing.
“[The OUA Championships] wasn’t quite what I hoped for as I was hoping to get a medal and it didn’t quite go that way,” Tweedle said. “But it’s nice to have the U Sports in two weeks. We were ready for the OUA’s, but we’re gonna be even better in two weeks.”