By Steve Holt, Copy Editor
“I’ll meet you at the line. Run fast, and make me run fast too,” is what two of the fastest sprinters in the nation say to each other just before every race. More often than not, the result has been the duo smoking the competition.
They look so different-one is muscular and white, and the other is dark and lanky. But ACU’s fastest students, senior Nic Alexander and junior Christie VanWyk, are actually strikingly similar.
Both came to college in the middle of Texas from another country. Both represented those countries in the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney, Australia. They both came to know competitive track and field by chance. And both have the same goal-to win nationals in three weeks.
“This season I’m setting my goals pretty high,” said the 25-year-old VanWyk, who is from the south African country Namibia. “I think I can still win nationals. I don’t think I’ve lost the ability to run fast-I have to get back into the mental state and pray a lot.”
But Alexander, who won three individual national championships his freshman year, is hungry for more titles in his last year after two injury-plagued seasons.
“Originally my plan was to come out and reclaim my titles, and I plan to do that,” Alexander said.
Sprinters have long been known for their competitive egos, but not these two, head coach Jon Murray said.
“It’s unusual to have two high-caliber sprinters like that who get along so well and help support each other,” Murray said. “There’s a lot of pride in sprinting, so just the personality-you might think there would be some clash there. That probably speaks to the character of each one of them and how they handle themselves.”
“Nic is a great guy,” VanWyk said. “On the track we are like brothers. We are just trying to make each other stronger. I look up to Nic.”
And Alexander said he wasn’t intimidated by freshman VanWyk when he arrived on campus.
“I looked at it another way: If this fast person is coming to this school, it will make me run fast,” Alexander said. “So I welcome him.”
A Trinidad teenager wondering about his course in life, boredom brought Alexander into the world of track and field. Home alone one afternoon, the 16-year-old decided to go to the local track and field club’s practice in 1995. Five year’s later, the then-ACU freshman ran a leg of the 4×100-meter relay that broke Trinidad’s national record in the semifinal heat of the Olympic Games.
“It was unbelievable,” Alexander said of his experience in Sydney. “People running up to you asking for your autograph-it was nice.”
VanWyk’s story parallels his teammate’s. At 16, VanWyk was a student at Windhock High School playing rugby.
“I was a wing, the fastest guy on the team,” VanWyk remembered. “I fund out when I got on the track, I blew everybody away.”
VanWyk also qualified to compete in the 2000 Games for his home country, but an unfortunate injury kept him sidelined.
Amid his current success, though, he never forgets his people in southern Africa.
“I’m living a dream for most of the kids in Namibia. I want to be an example for them and show them it is possible to do something like this,” he said.
Both sprinters have already left a permanent mark on the ACU track and field program. In 2002, VanWyk finished second in the 100-meter dash at the NCAA Division II Outdoor Championships in San Angelo and placed first three times during his sophomore season. During his freshman season, VanWyk ran 10.16 (wind-aided) to win the Lone Star Conference title in the same event, and then he ran 20.67 (wind-aided) to win the 200-meter dash.
Alexander was unable to compete as a true freshman because of academic reasons, but first attracted attention when he ran well at the last meet that season. The next season, as a redshirt freshman, he proved he was for real, winning the 55-meter dash at indoor nationals and the 100- and 200-meter dashes outdoors. Alexander sat out his sophomore season and struggled his junior year because of injuries, but his performances this season reveal that he’s back to his old self.
“You’re glad for him,” head coach Jon Murray said. “His freshman season was just phenomenal. But since that point it’s just been injury after injury after injury that has really slowed him down. So it’s nice to see him not being hurt.”
Alexander said sprinting is not as easy as some think.
“It’s very hard because you have to eat right, sleep right,” he said. “Your body is like a Formula 1 racing car-you wouldn’t just run out to 7-11 and buy any old motor oil.”
VanWyk, though 170 pounds of solid muscle, chooses to focus more on the mental aspect of sprinting.
“Anyone on earth can run fast. It is 80 percent in the head,” VanWyk said.
A self-admitted roadblock to VanWyk’s mental state this season has been his separation from his new bride Danica, whom he married in Namibia in December. Because of logistical issues, Danica has been unable to come to the U.S. with her husband. VanWyk acknowledges that the situation may have played a part in the 1-2 second slow-down in his 100-meter time.
“[Sprinting] a big mental thing-if you’re thinking about other stuff, it doesn’t work,” said VanWyk, a management major with sophomore hours.
But Murray still puts the two Wildcat runners with the top in the country.
“They are finely-tuned machines,” Murray said. “They work really hard in the weight room and on the track just trying to get that extra edge that helps them win. That’s what it comes down to-just a little extra is going to make the difference between a nationals first and maybe even fifth.”
Fifth-place is exactly what Alexander is trying to avoid after finishing in that spot in the 100-meter dash at last year’s nationals. He also has ambitions past college.
“I said, ‘This is my last season, and I want to run professionally, so I have to put good times up on the clock,'” the industrial technology major said.
VanWyk has set a lofty goal for himself as well: to be the fastest white man to break 10 seconds in the 100-meter dash, his favorite event.
“I thought of that; I’m still thinking of that,” he said of his goal. “I think I can do it.”
“It’s a high goal-he works really hard, so we’ll see what happens there,” Murray said. “Breaking 10 is difficult to do. It’ll be an interesting challenge for him.”
And it’s not all about individual goals and accolades to Alexander and VanWyk, either. They will both contribute this weekend, as the men’s track and field team attempts to win its 10th consecutive Lone Star Conference title at Elmer Gray Stadium Friday and Saturday. May 8, the university will play host to the ACU open, the last meet before the NCAA Division II Outdoor National Championships May 22-24 in Edwardsville, Ill. Alexander has confidence the men’s team will win its 13th outdoor title.
“We should win it,” he said.
But which ACU sprinter will take home the individual glory? To these two, it’s more about helping each other out than hogging the glory.
“When we went to [the Mt. SAC Relays in Walnut, Calif.], Nic got first, and I got second,” VanWyk said. “I don’t mind giving up that position for a teammate. One day it’s his day, one day it’s my day.”