This sounds like a made-for-Disney underdog story. You know the one.
The kid gets cut from the team. He works as a custodian to support
himself, and he trains on his own. He sees his old teammates on training
runs around town, but he's not allowed to run with them, so they just
wave in passing.
You know where this is going, right?
The kid comes back and shows them all.
It's cliche, but it's Jon Kotter's story,
every bit of it, and now the kid — a senior law student at Brigham Young
University — is one race away from competing in the NCAA track
championships. He can achieve that with a top-12 finish in the NCAA
Regional track and field championships in Austin, Texas, in two weeks.
If recent weeks are any indication, he is up
to the challenge. At the Cardinal Invitational in California, he placed
fourth in his section of the 5,000-meter run, with a time of 14:00.00. A
month later, he returned to Stanford for the Payton Jordan Invitational
and placed seventh in the 10,000 in a field of college and professional
runners. His time of 28:48.33 makes him the third-fastest in BYU
history at that distance. That's no small feat at a school that has
produced Olympic distance runners Doug Padilla, Ed Eyestone, Henry
Marsh, Paul Cummings, Jason Pyrah and Josh McAdams, to name a few.
\"He's had a nice career,\" says Eyestone, now
BYU's distance coach. \"I'm really proud of him. Especially considering
he was a walk-on and we cut him.\"Kotter was a good but unspectacular runner at Alta High School,
placing third and fifth in the 3,200- and 1,600-meter runs,
respectively, at the state track championships. That drew no interest
from college coaches.
Kotter served an LDS
Church mission in Rome and ran just twice during the next two years,
which was one too many. During his second run, he tripped and fell to
the asphalt, breaking both elbows.
He returned from his
mission in January 2006 and tried out for BYU's cross-country team that
fall. Collegiate teams are limited by the NCAA (read: Title IX and the
federal government) in the number of athletes they can retain on a
roster, even if they want to run without a scholarship. When Kotter
failed to crack the top 20, he was cut from the team. Rules forbade him
even from practicing with the team.
\"I took a few days to
reevaluate how much time I could commit to running,\" he says. \"I wasn't
doing well in school, and I had to have a job. Still, it was a dream of
mine, so I kept training.\"
Kotter's high school
distance coach, Rob Murphy, recalls, \"He came by my house (after being
cut), and he was upset. He asked if I had any books on training he could
borrow because he was going to have to be his own coach.\"Kotter trained alone for the next few months, sometimes passing the
BYU runners going the other way on the road. \"It was a little
depressing,\" he says. He tried out for the track team in the winter and
this time made the team by winning a 3,000-meter time trial.
Kotter improved steadily but gradually. He
placed sixth in the 5,000 at the indoor conference championships as a
sophomore. He placed in the top five in both the 5K and 3K at last
year's indoor conference meet. This year, BYU took Kotter to his first
outdoor conference championships, where he rewarded the team with a
second-place finish in the 10,000.
In the BYU fieldhouse, there is a board that
contains lists of the top 10 performers in each event. They are daunting
lists, filled with the names of national champions and future
Olympians. Kotter's goal was to put his name on the Top 10 Board, and he
achieved it with his breakthrough 10K at Stanford early this month.
\"During that race, I kept waiting for the
splits to slow down,\" he says. \"I was running a much better pace than we
intended. Halfway through the race, I realized I was probably going to
run a good time. Coach (Eyestone) was on the sideline giving splits (lap
times). He sounded really excited. He was saying things like, 'Kotter,
you're running out of your mind!' 'You're running the race of your
life!' It was really motivating.\"Kotter's final season of collegiate track is all the more impressive
because he is also in his first year of law school. He studies his law
books during road trips with the track team. He was forced to miss the
Mount San Antonio College (Mt. SAC) Relays so he could stay behind to
take final exams in his law classes. A conference scholar-athlete, he
plans to practice corporate law someday.
Meanwhile, he was one
more goal to fulfill: qualifying for the national championships.